Law enforcement agencies partner in child abduction exercise

On average, a child is reported missing every 40 seconds, according to the AmberWatch Foundation.

Approximately 22 percent of children who are abducted are taken by strangers or people they barely know.

Of the estimated 1.3 million children who go missing each year, only 797,500 of those cases are reported to law enforcement, according to information from the GBI.

The statistics are grim, law enforcement officials say, citing scenarios for the strongest efforts to recover a child safely in the initial hours following an abduction.

“Time is of the essence,” Allison Selman-Willis, spokeswoman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, said. “Statistics show 44 percent die within the first hour, 74 percent within the first three hours, 91 percent within 24 hours and 99 percent within the first week.”

Today, Monroe County sheriff’s deputies, Forsyth police and about 75 representatives of the GBI and eight other state agencies will participate in a mock abduction training exercise as part of Georgia’s new CART, or Child Abduction Recovery Team, a preplanned response to child abductions coordinated across various jurisdictions.

Also participating will be: the Georgia Department of Public Safety, the Georgia Department of Corrections, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Department of Human Resources, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The exercise will begin this morning at the Wal-Mart in Forsyth.

Someone will abduct a child from the store and travel to High Falls State Park in north Monroe County by noon.

Through a series of witness interviews, roadblocks, telephone sharing operations and a larger detail based at a unified command post, an investigation will lead to the safe rescue of the child.

“Data tells us that no single agency will have the resources to investigate a missing child case,” said Robert Ford, special agent in charge of the GBI’s intelligence unit and CART coordinator. “It’s imperative that we have a coordinated effort of all the state’s resources.”

Selman-Willis said shopping will not be interrupted at the North Lee Street Wal-Mart.

“We want patrons to know that this is a mock exercise,” she said.

Last April, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an executive order to establish the CART program in Georgia as part of a national thrust.

“This executive order will ensure a quick, deliberate response for missing and endangered children. The Child Abduction Response Team will guarantee the rapid collaboration of each agency and ensure disciplined recovery efforts,” Perdue said in a news release. “The safety and security of all of our children remains a top priority for Georgia.”

In the case of an abduction, a police department or sheriff’s office would contact its local GBI office to initiate the CART. Then, GBI agents and representatives from the eight other state agencies would lend resources to assist in the missing child investigation. Ford said no new state monies have been allotted for the program.

“This is not a funded initiative. This is an initiative where every agency is being asked to utilize their existing resources,” he said. “I suspect that once the local law enforcement agencies realize what a tremendous resource now exists, we will be getting a large number of calls, which could easily strain our resources.”

For now however, participants are optimistic about the CART and hope it will reduce the number of abduction cases resulting in child deaths, Ford said.

“There’s been overwhelming enthusiasm for the team,” he said. “It’s giving a lot of the agencies an opportunity to do something that they don’t do on a daily basis — conduct investigations.”

To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, call 744-4347.