New law enforcement team on-call for child abductions

They’ve been training this week at the Everett campus of Washington State University.

EVERETT — A child abduction is one of the most urgent and chaotic emergencies a police officer will face.

Now, a new team of about 50 law enforcement professionals will be on-call when a child is reported missing and endangered in Snohomish County. It eventually could grow to a team of 100.

They’ve been training this week at the Everett campus of Washington State University, along with investigators from around Puget Sound, California, Utah and other states.

In the past, local missing children cases have been led by a city police department or the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. That won’t change. But police will have at their disposal the Inter-agency Child Abduction Response Team, or ICART, if they believe a child is in immediate danger.

In his regular job, Lt. Jeraud Irving oversees four Everett police sergeants, in investigations of homicides, robbery, sexual assault and financial crimes. Irving will be a liaison between local police and the specialized team. He’ll also coordinate ongoing training sessions a few times each year.

“Everybody has a fundamental knowledge now of what’s expected, and they know how to jump in and help with a coordinated effort,” he said. “So it’s not just a bunch of police agencies or officers running around. We have a central hub.”

The team will be led by Everett police Capt. John DeRousse.

A swift response is critical in child abductions. The Washington State Attorney General’s Office spent years studying hundreds of cases across the nation where children vanished and were later found murdered. About 88.5 percent of those who died were killed in the first 24 hours, according to figures released in 2006.

The flip side of that statistic is that about 99.8 percent of missing children are returned home safe, fairly quickly, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Here, ICART will respond to what people typically think of as a kidnapping: an abduction that doesn’t involve a family member or a custody battle. Or they could be called if there’s a clear violent threat, regardless of whether the suspect is family. Sometimes it will be up to the discretion of the team.

“We may not ring the bell on every single call,” Irving said. “We can’t push the button every single time. You’ll burn people out. I hate to say this, but crying wolf — there’s only so many times you can do it.”

Sometimes it will be obvious that the case qualifies. For example, the team likely will be responding if every phone in the room is buzzing with an Amber Alert — like what happened in the classroom full of police officers around 1:45 p.m. Wednesday. A boy, 5, had been reported abducted by his father in King County. The child was found safe minutes later in Seattle. The father was arrested. (No one in the class had to run out the door, Everett officer Aaron Snell said.)

The majority of those in the class this week were from Snohomish County. They included dispatchers, who will help mobilize the response, and prosecutors, who will review search warrants and pursue criminal charges.

On Wednesday the topic was public and not-so-public databases that can help track down suspects. A deputy federal marshal from Iowa chimed in about software, FirstTwo, that can map out who lives in a neighborhood, based on publicly available info. It could be helpful in finding associates, he said, especially in a time crunch.

Patrol officers will still be on the front line in abduction cases. It could take 20 to 45 minutes for ICART to scramble to a scene. Irving recalled a case where a boy went missing on Casino Road. Officers on the south side of the city knocked on doors. He eventually was found hiding behind a bush, scared of the police. The team might not have arrived in time to help.

If things had gotten more complicated, though, they could have set up a command post and launched a wider investigation.

ICART will operate much like the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, or SMART, a group of local detectives who investigate police shootings. Both exist for cases that police officers dread. But they’d rather be ready for them.

“We have the resources now that we can pool together and find a kid,” Irving said. “God forbid it ever happens, it’s absolutely important that we stay on top of it.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; Twitter: @snocaleb.

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