Wash. Response Team to Focus on Kidnapping

The Tacoma Police Department first explored putting together what's known as a Child Abduction Response Team, or CART, in late 2008, and has been working on the concept since.

The CART concept has gained favor among law enforcement agencies in recent years and builds on the Amber Alert program.

The electronic messages are displayed on highway reader boards and broadcast by the media when a child is abducted. Neither kind of alert is required of law enforcement agencies.

CART training, offered by Fox Valley Technical College through a U.S. Department of Justice grant, provides team members with resources and tools that can be useful when a child is taken.

Training covers search, canvassing and recovery techniques, forensic response, investigative strategies and specialized investigative techniques.

The Tacoma team is comprised of about 30 representatives from Tacoma police, the Law Enforcement Support Agency, Pierce County Prosecutor's Office, King County Medical Examiner's Office, FBI, the Child Advocacy Center, Child Protective Services and the state Department of Corrections.

Within Tacoma police, detectives, forensic specialists, search and rescue members and crime analysts are part of the team.

The department's mission is to "quickly and effectively recover a child who is abducted or missing under suspicious circumstances," Wade said. Its model for child abduction cases weaves in CART training and resources.

Under the model, the criminal investigation is divided into six teams, each led by a detective.

The teams oversee all aspects of the investigation, including setting up a tips line and answering phone calls; coordinating search and rescue efforts; providing services to the victim's family; gathering intelligence; canvassing the neighborhood; contacting registered sex offenders; and working with forensics, the prosecutors and the crime lab. Among other duties, team leaders are responsible for contacting the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to get their help. They already have the numbers for those contacts and know who to call if a child abduction happens during the day or in the middle of the night, Wade said.

"If it does happen again, we are not scrambling around to find resources," she said.

The department has been developing the model, and members attend training within normal work hours. They took part in a three-day training session in February in Burien. The training sessions have been free to team members.

The department plans to bring the team together four times a year for training and to make sure their contacts are updated. They hope to be certified by the U.S. Department of Justice by the end of the year.

To be certified, the department must show it meets 31 standards for CART teams. It also must take part in a full-scale training exercise. There's no re-evaluation once a team is certified.

Tacoma police say they are committed to maintaining the training and plan so they're ready to respond quickly to the next missing child.

"It will be up to us to maintain our standards," Wade said. "You don't get a lot of opportunity to practice these, thankfully."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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