On February 9, the Department of Justice came to the North Florida area to conduct a tri-county Child Abduction Response Team (C.A.R.T.) certification exercise. Thanks to the Amber Alert C.A.R.T. program, developed by local retired FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) Special Agent Floy Turner, law enforcement agencies have been training in the correct procedures and protocol for child abduction cases.
This exercise, conducted on a cold February morning, created a fictitious child abduction, and several agencies responded to its Amber Alert. Involved were the Baker County Sheriff’s Office, Starke Police Department, FDLE, NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service), St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville Beach Police Department, Florida Department of Corrections, and Justice Coalition, to name a few. A full investigation was launched as the FDLE set-up a Full Incident Command Center as did the media. A volunteer posse was established. Police dogs were brought in to further enhance the efforts of all. Several hours later, the “abducted” child was safely recovered and his “abductor” was arrested. A good and happy ending to something that could have had a completely different and tragic outcome. But this was merely a practice run, right?
Not exactly. Everyone involved took this exercise very seriously. They understood more than most the importance of having a plan in place before a child goes missing and then staying on top of every detail. They remembered how 5-year old Haleigh Cummings went missing two years ago, and they remembered the abduction and murder of 7-year old Somer Thompson that occurred eight months later. Unfortunately, the circumstances of the cases prevented positive outcomes, but according to Turner, police can be confident that they had followed proper procedures since they had a C.A.R.T. program in place.
Before a C.A.R.T. evaluation is performed for certification, agencies are given a C.A.R.T. manual that provides step-by-step instructions needed to ensure efficiency in a critically speedy manner. Once an abduction is verified and information gathered from the responding agency, an Amber Alert from the FDLE Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC) in Tallahassee is requested. The Alert can be statewide or regional, depending on the circumstances. Fortunately, the MOU’s (Memorandums of Understanding) between the different states allow agencies to work together. Once the Amber Alert is out, the C.A.R.T. kicks in. But not all C.A.R.T. cases require an Amber Alert, especially in cases where there is insufficient information for the Alert.
Turner, the AMBER Alert and Child Abduction Response Team Liaison for the Eastern United States and Caribbean,is also a C.A.R.T. instructor and certification assessor. She was quite pleased with the skills displayed by our local agencies.
In closing, Turner said, “This was a great event and exercise. All administrative components came out and supported team members. The community here should know that their C.A.R.T. team is dedicated to recovering children in need.”