LAYTON — When responding to a report of a missing child, police agencies mobilizing in partnership with the community is the new norm, because every second counts when it comes to a possible abduction.
“There has been a change in the manner in which we respond," Layton Police Sgt. James Petre said.
Petre stressed he only speaks for his agency, which uses as one of its resources the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va.
After being missing for two days, Brooklyn Gittins, 13, of Herriman, was found unharmed late Thursday after she contacted her grandmother from a Walmart store.
A small army of volunteers in partnership with area police searched the city for Gittins.
Petre said his department often will receive calls from parents reporting their child has yet to return home from school.
And although 99 percent of the time those children are found safely playing at a friend’s house, he said it is important that the department mobilize quickly to find the child in the event it is an actual abduction.
“We don’t have very much time,” Petre said of the importance of the response time in locating a missing child.
It often can be the first few hours of an abduction that will determine whether the victim will be found dead or alive, he said.
Police mobilizing with community volunteers to search those areas where the child was last seen also “puts some pressure” on anyone who may be holding a child against their will.
That is why a partnership between the community and law enforcement agencies is important in helping with the outcome of a search, Petre said.
It is such partnerships between the public and police that are behind the development of Utah’s AMBER Alert Plan, which will be tested on Sunday, according to the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
The test is to ensure everything is working the way it should be, according to Paul Murphy, spokesman with the Attorney General’s Office.
Sunday’s exercise will be the 20th test for the statewide child abduction alert plan. Utah’s Amber Alert is also tested each year on Aug. 26, the date 3-year-old Rachel Runyan was kidnapped near her Sunset home in 1982.
“We absolutely need everyone’s help to make sure the AMBER Alert works when it’s needed,” Utah Attorney General John Swallow said in a prepared statement.
Another significant development this year is that the public will no longer have to opt-in to receive AMBER Alerts on their cell phones. On Dec. 31, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children began sending alerts to all cell phones in the area where an AMBER Alert has been initiated, Murphy said.
Utah has issued 34 AMBER alerts since the plan began on April 2, 2002.
Most children were recovered safely and the alerts were directly responsible for bringing 17 children back home.
Authorities still don’t know whether to label the Gittins case a runaway or an abduction. They know that Brooklyn Gittins crawled out of her bedroom window and left on her own accord Tuesday night. She was picked up in a car by a person or persons who then harbored her for two days, said Unified Police spokesman Justin Hoyal.
“To take somebody who is that age and leave without parental consent is problematic,” he said.
The two-day search — which included about 85 police officers and firefighters each day and about 1,000 volunteers — is over, but the investigation continues in search of the people who harbored Gittins, Hoyal said. They could be facing any number of charges.
“We’ve got to determine what exactly took place,” he said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions on our end.”
Information from the Associated Press is included in this story.