The first hours following a child's abduction are critical to a successful investigation and recovery. A quick response by investigators is imperative—there is no time for scrambling to identify available resources.
OJJDP established the Child Abduction Response Team (CART) initiative in 2006 to offer law enforcement agencies a multiagency—often multijurisdictional—resource for rapid deployment when searching for an abducted or endangered child. OJJDP’s AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program has supported the initiative since its launch and, to date, has provided no-cost training to more than 8,000 CART members. There are 137 active CARTs nationwide.
“We work hard every day to make sure agencies have the best, well-planned resources. That’s the heart of CART. Instead of looking for resources, we want them looking for the child.”
—Derek VanLuchene, National CART Coordinator, AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program
A CART can be a local, regional, or state team. Collaborating with other agencies and neighboring jurisdictions is essential when securing resources critical to a search. In many cases, law enforcement agencies that have not yet established a CART recognize the need for their own local or regional team after learning about a child abduction in another jurisdiction.
CARTs require expert practitioners in several critical areas—search and canvass, interview and interrogation, command post operations, and long-term and major case investigations, according to a program implementation guide developed by the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program. Teams also require specialists in public affairs, cybercrime, and geographic information systems, and increasingly include victim advocates who act as liaisons between family members and the investigation team.
Law enforcement personnel play the lead role when a CART responds to an incident involving an endangered child, conducting all operations essential to the investigation and the search. The CART coordinator typically is a law enforcement officer who oversees team development, organizes training events, and maintains activation and operating protocols. The coordinator also activates the team when a child is reported abducted or missing. Other key members of a CART include an expert in emergency management to set up a command post and a law enforcement representative to lead search and canvass operations.
Teams may also include emergency medical services and fire/rescue personnel; probation and parole officers to provide leads on sex offenders in the area; and school resource officers to help investigators contact the child’s school friends, teachers, and others. A CART’s composition may change as participating agencies discover that an investigation requires particular resources.
CART trainings close with a tabletop exercise simulating an abducted child incident. Gaps in a team’s critical skills often become clear then, according to Derek VanLuchene, National CART Coordinator for the program. The exercise helps law enforcement agencies identify team needs before an emergency occurs and the team is engrossed in an investigation. The key to a good outcome is preparation, Mr. VanLuchene said.
“The more organized you are at the beginning of an investigation, the more successful the response will be,” he said.
The resources section of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program website includes examples of local CART operating procedures, a program implementation guide, and materials for gaining CART certification.