Local law enforcement gains ‘one more tool’ in locating missing childrenAround noon last Saturday, a 13-year-old girl was reported missing in the Cloquet area. Her parents told the Cloquet Police Department that she had told them she was going for a walk but that she had been gone for an extended period of time.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Around noon last Saturday, a 13-year-old girl was reported missing in the Cloquet area. Her parents told the Cloquet Police Department that she had told them she was going for a walk but that she had been gone for an extended period of time.
“Her parents felt that it was uncharacteristic of her to be gone that long,” said Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande. “They said she was a good kid, with no known issues, and that she didn’t have a cell phone with her. They were worried.”
During the five to six hours following the girl’s disappearance, officers from the Cloquet and Fond du Lac police departments, Carlton County Sheriff’s Department and volunteer first responders from the Cloquet Area Fire District canvassed the area and checked with the girl’s friends.
“They just kept coming up empty, and it was getting on toward dark,” said Lamirande.
The situation prompted police to activate a brand new program called “A Child is Missing” (ACIM) alert system. The Cloquet police, along with the Carlton County Sheriff’s Department and the Moose Lake Police Department, recently signed on for what Sheriff Kelly Lake calls “one more tool” to augment their ability to locate missing children or vulnerable adults. ACIM is a high-tech method of automatically generating thousands of phone calls within minutes of the time a child or other person is reported missing in the area surrounding the location they were last seen.
“Anytime we take a report of that nature,” said Lake, “we realize the first hours are critical. This will enable us to get the information out to the citizens of the area so they can be our eyes and ears. The more people we have looking, the better.”
Upon receiving the report of the missing girl last Saturday, the ACIM headquarters placed 1,000 calls to the Cloquet neighborhood and surrounding vicinity where the girl had disappeared, giving residents a description of the clothing she was wearing, along with her height, weight and other pertinent information.
Lamirande said the department subsequently fielded a number of calls and emails from people who received the information, some providing feedback or asking about the status of the search and others inquiring if the automated calls were part of a legitimate program.
The girl was ultimately located with a friend near the Cloquet High School tennis courts, some five to six hours after she had been reported missing.
“Apparently, she didn’t realize that all of this was going on,” said Lamirande. “Thankfully, everything turned out fine. It gave us the chance to try out the new alert system, though we hadn’t counted on having to launch it quite so soon.”
The ACIM alert program is similar to the well- known AMBER alert system. Lake said there are some important differences, however, and the new program should be especially useful in situations that don’t qualify as AMBER alerts.
For one thing, AMBER alerts are reserved strictly for children who have been abducted, while the alerts posted through ACIM apply to a child who is lost, has wandered or run away or who has been abducted.
In most states, a child must be 17 years old or younger to qualify as the subject of an AMBER alert, while ACIM alerts can be activated for not only missing children under the age of 21, but also college students, elderly persons (often those suffering from dementia) and persons who are mentally or physically challenged or disabled.
“We will evaluate each potential activation of the ‘A Child is Missing’ alert program to ensure the application is appropriate to the case and to ensure the system is optimally used,” said Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande.
AMBER alerts are posted primarily through radio or television spots and via electronic state road signs, though some can also be posted to wireless devices and over the Internet. On the other hand, alerts dispersed through the Florida-based headquarters of the ACIM program are sent directly to the land line phones of residents in the immediate vicinity of where the child or other person was last seen.
“A recorded message will go out to all of the residents within a two-mile radius or further, if warranted,” explained Lake. “We can gear it to our own particular circumstances.”
Cell phone users, or those with unlisted land line numbers, can also register to be included in the alerts, either by phone or text message, by logging on to www.achildismissing.org and clicking on “How 2 Help/Sign up for alerts” to enter the required information. The information will be used strictly for emergency message alerts.
The calls are generated as soon as one of the local law enforcement agencies contacts the non-profit ACIM program headquarters, which answers around the clock, seven days a week. An information and mapping technician then initiates a rapid process of information gathering through the use of GPS mapping systems, and then notification calls to the local phone lines are made within minutes.
In addition to the information about the missing person, the alerts will also include a local law enforcement number for use by anyone having information relating to the missing person.
Lake said to date, there is no accommodation for follow-up calls after the missing person is located, so she urged residents to keep a close eye and ear on local news sources for updates.
The program, funded through government grants, corporations, foundations and special events, is a free service to law enforcement.
“We had talked about forming a Code Red countywide notification system,” said Moose Lake Police Chief Bryce Bogenholm, “but it would have been quite costly. It takes a lot of resources to respond to cases such as these, so this is a great program for us.”