The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office is spearheading the effort to join about 20 other law enforce agencies nationwide that have created a certified multi-agency Child Abduction Response Team (CART) to provide a fast response.
"All the police agencies in Yavapai County are participating" along with some fire departments, said YCSO Lt. Tom Boelts, who added that the goal is to respond to any missing child call-out with 120 to 150 trained personnel within the first hour. This rapid response team will be available to any county law enforcement agency that requests it, and would likely be able to answer a call anywhere within the state.
"We started to think about (forming CART) in the summer of 2010" after the department dealt with two high-profile missing child cases, Boelts said.
A CART response is very different from the way things have been done in the past, said Boelts. "Everyone (on the team) will be trained up-front," he said. "Instead of taking time to explain, we'll be able to give out addresses and maps and say, 'Here's your area of responsibility.'"
On Friday, the leaders of the local CART team from about 10 agencies around the county and Northern Arizona were in training at a Prescott church. The sessions were provided at no cost by Fox Valley.
Instructor Dan Feught gave a technical presentation on how to use forensic evidence in searches. Later, Wisconsin Judge Mark McGinnis went over the legal issues a search for a missing child can present, using examples specific to Arizona.
For a smaller police department, the CART team will be invaluable. "That's huge - we need to be ready to go. (When a call comes in) that's not the time to be trying to assemble a team," said Chino Valley Police Detective Michael Knittle. "If you can just snap your fingers and get things rolling," it will save valuable time, he added.
Having a group of responders with specialized knowledge will also make investigations run more smoothly, said Prescott Police Detective Sgt. Clayton Heath.
Because time is of the essence in child abduction cases, Boelts said they would prefer to have parents err on the side of caution and call police if they even simply suspect something is wrong:
"We'd much rather have the parents call, and we come out and find the kid playing hide-and-seek, rather than have them wait and find out that a tragedy has occurred," he said.