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Missing Child: Procedures

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When growing up in my hometown, I heard a story about some neighborhood kids who had gotten themselves in trouble. Apparently, some of them had gone trekking into the woods and one of them had drowned, but no one confessed until a few days after the fact. That story has stuck with me and so I'm exploring it. The problem is that I don't know how police and search party procedures work.

I'm exploring through fiction how the incident would have effected the kids, if no one knew of their involvement. For that reason, I want to avoid writing in-depth about police and search party involvement. At the same time, for the story to be realistic, I need to know some facts.

I have tried to find resources online. Seems that police get involved pretty quickly when it's a missing child. Moreover, it seems search parties have formed within an hour of a child's absence. Yet I'm still left with so many questions. Here are a few of them:

* If a woman calls the police because her five-year-old has been missing a few hours, what would be done that evening?

* Would there be a search? Where?

* Would the police talk to neighbors?  Parents of the boy’s friends?  The mother’s co-workers?

* What would happen the next day?

* If the woman is a teacher, how would that effect the school? 

* If the woman doesn't know the father of her child, how much effort would be made to find him?

Anyone know of online resources I might use? Or where I might turn to next?
#1 - October 02, 2012, 11:30 AM

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Depending on where you live, Allison, your absolute best resource would be to contact your local Search and Rescue organization. In most places in the west/rural, this is spearheaded by the county/state sheriff's office, but sometimes it's an independent organization or affiliated instead with emergency services or the forest service or the coast guard or another logical organization, depending on the geography and government structure. The local cops can at least point you to the right place. Call their non-emergency office number and ask for their community relations, community policing, or public outreach specialist.

The S&R folks are super friendly and helpful and would love to give you exactly what would happen. You'll get way better authenticity details from them than anything online. And I know from experience that while you can find a fair bit of info online (I did S&R research for an adult novel some years ago), there is *really* no substitute for getting the info from the horse's mouth on police and agency-related topics like this, because procedures vary significantly by area and organization and leadership -- and because time after time, deputies and so forth have complained to me about how much crap is on TV and thus becomes common knowledge for what happens, when it's not even close. :)

Good luck!
#2 - October 02, 2012, 11:51 AM
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I second Joni's suggestion to go to the source.

I asked some pretty weird questions of the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and Homeland Security before I switched from thrillers to MG. (One day our daughter walked around the corner, talking before she could see me. I held up an index finger, then pointed to the phone and whispered, "Not now. Mommy's talking to the CIA about blowing up a ship." You shoulda seen her face.)

Sometimes it takes a little while to get a response, but I've found that the public relations people for these organizations are well chosen--smart, personable, helpful--not the run-around you might expect.

Of course, I've found that showing up at the police station with a pan of brownies does wonders, too. (I live in a small rural town. This might not work in a city. Also, avoid shift changes.)

Best of luck!
#3 - October 02, 2012, 01:30 PM
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I live in a city of 300.000 and had a good friend who was on the police force his whole adult life. He said when they get a call about a missing child, they respond immediately. No waiting for 24 or 48 hours. That is for adults. He also said that if the child is young, the first place they look is under the beds in the house, because often they have crawled underneath and fallen asleep.

Of course, your children sound older, but he did say they search the house first and then collect as much information as possible from any available source.

I second the advice to go to the source. Procedures may differ in different parts of the country.
#4 - October 02, 2012, 01:47 PM

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We receive  phone calls or texts for Amber Alerts.
The website has guidelines for activation for the alert system such as confirmation  by law enforcement officers that an abduction has occurred.
#5 - October 02, 2012, 05:45 PM

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Darn! I was hoping to stay shy and not talk to real people about my questions.  :ohno  :)

Because I now live in a big town in the Midwest but the story happened in a small town in Eastern Canada, I unfortunately can't just visit or show up with brownies. Wish I could! I suspect that would get the quickest response. However, I finally did get the time and nerve to make a phone call to the police.

I've also sent an email to my dad who still lives in my hometown. If he could get me a specific name, that might also speed up the process.

Since that time, I have also contacted a representative for my home town's search and rescue. I've received some brief answers and an invitation to call for more details. I'll also ask him about a police contact.

And even though I agree that talking to real people is best, I have continued to look for police procedural info. I finally found some booklets put out by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about missing child investigations.

To provide some further information, my town has about 15,000. The child was only about kindergarten age, but had trailed after some kids in elementary and high school. That's about the extent that I plan to stick to the original facts. However, all of you are right that I need to get facts from the people who really know.

Thanks everyone! I'll post an update, if I make more progress.
#6 - October 10, 2012, 12:48 PM
« Last Edit: October 10, 2012, 07:19 PM by Allison »


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