Child abductions are not limited to metropolitan communities. They can strike anywhere – even in a small village like Cottage Grove.
Local police were out in force March 2 for a mock child abduction field exercise as part of a project to help law enforcement coordinate efforts to help solve such crimes quickly and safely.
“This gave us an opportunity to get together and test our capabilities, so things like communication, radios, setting up tip (lines) for citizens to call in,” Cottage Grove Police Chief Dan Layber said. “There are so many things that go into this type of police activity that you need help from the outside. We’re not a large police department, and obviously, this is not something we deal with on a frequent basis.”
The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Child Abduction Response Team (CART) coordinated the exercise as part of its annual recertification.
“The Amber Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program through the U.S. DOJ certifies Child Abduction Response Teams throughout the country,” said Jenniffer Price, director of the DOJ’s Special Operations Bureau. “It’s that program that has come here … and they monitored the exercise today, they ask questions of the the participants … and they sat down with me and other core members of our Child Abduction Response Team to go through the standards, do site visits of the places we’ve had in our exercises today.”
CART is part of the Special Operations Program in the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) at DOJ. CART is a team of individuals from DCI who are trained and prepared to respond to a report of a missing, endangered or abducted child.
CART leverages resources to aid in the search and rescue efforts and to assist a local agency in its investigation. The role of CART is not to supplant the investigation of the local police, but rather to enhance the investigation with a cooperative approach involving trained DCI law enforcement personnel, resources and technology.
“I think this will definitely help us in the future,” Layber said. “It’s great to see the cooperation between the state and local and county law enforcement.”
“This is the best way to practice for what will happen in a real child abduction, and we want to be able to make sure that we have everything set on the front end so when an abduction occurs, we have already tested this, we’ve gone through it, and we can hit the ground running and not have to worry about an logistical or administrative stuff,” she said.
Price said Cottage Grove provided an ideal setting and department for the exercise.
“What we wanted to do as a Child Abduction Response Team is really take a look at the state as a whole and where we would be most likely to deploy,” she said. “We wanted to take a look at a more suburban agency that doesn’t have as many resources as as large jurisdiction, such as Milwaukee or Madison where they have a lot of people and a lot of different resources … that the smaller agencies just don’t have. When they have a couple of people that are on patrol on a shift on any given day and time, they’re going to run out of staffing very quickly. That’s why we wanted to test in an area where that would be more likely for our team to deploy.”
Along with the Cottage Grove Police Department, others joining in were the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, Dane County Public Safety Communications Center, Dane County Emergency Management, Wisconsin Emergency Management, Wisconsin Statewide Intelligence Center, the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
At the end of the day, the U.S. DOJ assessors on hand for the mock child abduction assessment recommended the Wisconsin DOJ Child Abduction Response Team become the 22nd certified CART in America.