The Best Kept Secret in Law Enforcement

The 1984 movie told us what to do when there's "somethin' weird and it don't look good." Back then, the answer to the question "Who ya gonna call?" was "Ghostbusters!" of course. It's too bad that there isn't a hotline for today's law enforcement agencies...

Fortunately, the county stepped in and provided heavy equipment, including dump trucks and front-end loaders, plus the personnel needed to run the machinery. This assistance brought the price tag down to $100,000, which still wasn't in the sheriff's budget. But the agency received a victim's assistance grant through the governor's office, which covered the balance of the expenses.

An emotional roller coaster

With the funding and plans in place, the search could begin. Although a landfill search sounds straightforward — just start digging until you uncover what you're looking for — it is a complicated operation. "We moved about 43,000 truckloads of debris," Menchaca says. "We covered an area 200 feet long, 175 feet wide and 30 feet deep."

The search required the use of road graders, excavators, front-end loaders and dump trucks. Uniforms, special boots, goggles and other supplies were needed for the searchers, as were food, water and decontamination. The search was complicated by the fact that the suitcase they were searching for was near a landfill liner, which prevents contaminants from entering the local water supply. The searchers had to be sure the heavy equipment did not damage the liner but still excavated the correct area.

"It was an emotional roller coaster," Menchaca reports. "Every day we thought we would find her, and every day we didn't."

Finally, after two months of searching, the body of Joanna Rogers was recovered from the landfill. The case set a record for the longest amount of time a body was in a landfill before being recovered.

The best kept secret

"I can't brag on the guys from NCMEC enough," Menchaca says. "The expertise and direction they gave us got us off the ground. There's no way we could have begun to do all this without NCMEC's help."

Menchaca admits that until Manning and Olive showed up to assist with the Rogers case, he was unfamiliar with NCMEC.

"I spent most of the 29 years of my career in narcotics, and I didn't know about NCMEC until I got into investigations," he explains. "I didn't deal much with cases involving children before that."

Although NCMEC can provide an incredible amount of assistance and resources, many agencies don't know they can take advantage of these services. In fact, it seems to be the best kept secret in law enforcement.

Part of the reason for NCMEC's low profile is that volunteers take a back seat in investigations, Olive says. "We're not going to show up and jump in front of the news cameras. We stay in the background."

Unless, of course, the investigating agency wants the NCMEC representatives to deal with the press. Then the volunteers are glad to provide their assistance. But because they serve in an advisory and assistance role, the volunteers don't get a lot of press, which may contribute to the lack of awareness on the part of the public and law enforcement alike.

NCMEC itself, however, did call attention to the Lubbock Sheriff's Office on Valentine's Day 2007. That was when the organization presented Sheriff David Gutierrez and Menchaca with the Team Adam Law Enforcement Award for excellence in law enforcement in recognition of their extraordinary efforts in the Rogers case.

Olive, who was present at the awards ceremony, was humble about his own part in the operation, giving the credit to the Lubbock Sheriff's Office. "These men handled one of the most difficult recovery cases in Team Adam history," he says. "Their relentless focus and commitment to finding this young girl's body, despite extremely difficult and adverse conditions, makes them among the nation's finest in the law enforcement community."

Olive also praised the Lubbock search participants for their selfless contributions. "This was a case where the searchers paid no attention to the extreme temperature changes, heavy rainfall, and hazardous and deplorable work conditions," he says. "The team continued because they wanted to end the torment the Rogers family endured every minute of every day for more than two years. They would not stop until they achieved that goal."

Who ya gonna call?

Since its inception in 1984, NCMEC has served as a national clearinghouse for information on missing children and the prevention of child victimization.

To find out more about the resources and services NCMEC provides to law enforcement agencies, or to volunteer your expertise, visit NCMEC's toll-free hotline number is (800) THE-LOST, or (800) 843-5678. The organization also can be contacted directly at (703) 274-3900.

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