When my son Robert was in Kindergarten, I lost him for the longest 10 minutes of my life. We were attending a community fundraising event at our local high school. It was a balmy spring evening, hundreds of people were there in support of the event, and the mood was one of celebration and hope. Bright colors and crazy costumes packed the football field, and party music filled the air. The evening was one where you felt grateful to be in the presence of your family and friends. My family and I were walking around the track. With the unbridled enthusiasm of a child, Robert wanted to run ahead of the adults. I remember thinking to myself, “Let him run with joy! After all, I can see him right in front of me.” Until I could not. He was swallowed up by the crowd. When I realized I could not see him, fear picked up my pace. After walking the length of the straightaway and not finding him, my fear transformed into terror.
In that moment, you do not want to overreact, but you don’t want to under react either; instinct drove my every decision. I positioned my Mother in one spot and sent my other family member in the opposite direction of the way in which people were walking so that he and I could cover more ground at the same time. Once we met in the middle and had not found Robert, my terror almost paralyzed me. I noticed a local police officer, and I knew I needed his help. My panicked brain managed to convey to him my son’s age, physical description, and what he was wearing. God bless that young officer; he did not think I was insane and took me seriously. As he radioed for help, I stood there praying, looked up, and saw Robert serenely sitting on the edge of the track. After I rushed to him, crushed him with hugs and kisses, I asked him what happened. His reply was that after he ran ahead, he could not find us, so he sat down to wait. He remembered me teaching him not to wander around if he were lost, but to remain in one spot. While I am living one of the worst nightmares of a parent, thinking my child is missing, or worse–kidnapped–Robert had the presence of mind to follow the lessons I had taught him and had the confidence to say, “I knew you would find me.”
According to the FBI, a child goes missing every 40 seconds in America. That comes to around 765,000 children a year. Quick action is crucial: seventy-six percent of abducted children that are ultimately murdered are dead within three hours of the abduction. In May of 2015, a stranger abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old Navajo girl as she played outside her home in New Mexico. The case raised questions about law enforcement responses in remote areas of the Navajo Nation. The tribe does not have its own Amber Alert system, so they must rely on outside agencies to spread the word about child abductions. Approximately 10 hours passed before an Amber Alert was issued. This tragic murder shined a spotlight on the lack of law enforcement communication between agencies within the Navajo Nation. What the general public fails to realize is that many of the approximately 18,000 U.S. state and local law enforcement agencies typically have independent record keeping and communication systems that are not linked in any way. This inability for officers from different agencies to communicate as if they were one single agency could prevent the rescue of missing children.
The COPsync Network™ improves real-time communication across law enforcement jurisdictions and helps public safety officials prevent and respond quickly to crime. The Network gives officers instant access to actionable, mission-critical data and to local, state and federal law enforcement databases. So far, COPsync has attracted more than 600 law enforcement agency customers across 12 states. In November 2011, the Van Zandt County (TX) Sheriff’s Department dispatch received a 9-1-1 call where the caller stated there was a child wrapped in duct tape on the side of Interstate-20 and thrown into a vehicle. Torrential rain prevented the only available patrol unit from intercepting the kidnapper’s vehicle. Wills Point (TX) Police Chief Rob Powell, unable to communicate with law enforcement in the neighboring county on the radio, utilized COPsync features to locate officers on duty and send a broadcast message instantly alerting them to what was happening and the likely location of the suspect’s vehicle. Within minutes, officers were able to move to I-20, identify, and stop the suspect’s vehicle. The child was indeed found in the vehicle with duct tape restraints. Had it not been for COPsync, this incident might very well have had a much different and tragic ending. Chief Powell’s quick thinking and use of the COPsync Network helped save a child’s life. The COPsync Network was instrumental in how crucial information was communicated to help recover this child and is the nation’s only system designed to connect law enforcement officers and agencies nationwide, even those thousands of miles apart, with real-time communication and access to a nationwide database of non-adjudicated law enforcement information.
The night I lost Robert was terrifying. However, I acted quickly and implemented a plan; including arming a child with information about what he should do in an emergency. It is one of my fervent hopes that all law enforcement officers are armed with the information they need to protect themselves and the communities they serve.
https://wordpress.com/menus/bluelivesblog.wordpress.com is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.