Ky. police use new tool to find missing children

Unlike Amber Alert, police can utilize the system anytime they believe a child is in danger

By Leigh Ann Tipton
Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. 
OWENSBORO, Ky. — The Greenville Police Department has a new tool to help find missing children, college students and elderly people.

"A Child Is Missing" is similar to reverse 911. When a report comes in that a child or adult has wandered off or is missing, a description of the missing person is called into the alert system based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Using high-tech satellite imagery and telephonics, the system calls all the listed residences and businesses geographically near the missing person's last known location. It offers them a detailed description of the missing person and asks them to check their yards and neighborhoods.

"It's worth its weight in gold," said Detective Jonathan DeArmond. "But it doesn't cost a thing."

The system is free for law enforcement agencies. All they have to do is make a formal request to be included in the alert system's coverage area, then develop a policy for when to utilize it.

"It took us all of 30 minutes to become a part of this thing," Officer Darren Harvey said.

The Greenville Police Department learned about the alert system through a fax from the Paducah Police Department, one of the first police departments in Kentucky to become part of the program.

Chief John Robertson sent DeArmond to an informational workshop at the Paducah department. After learning more about the system, DeArmond said it made sense to join.

A Florida publisher established the service in 1997. At the time, there was not a service available to alert the public when a child or adult went missing. The program is funded entirely through federal and state grants, with help from private and corporate donors. Staff members are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to take calls from law enforcement.

On May 7, the system helped locate a missing 72-year-old in Boynton Beach, Fla. On April 30, it helped locate a 10-year-old girl who was found sleeping under a tree in Gallup, N.M.

Unlike Amber Alert, police can utilize the system anytime they believe a child is in danger, even if it's because the child has simply wandered off. The system can also be used to alert the public when an adult, such as one with Alzheimer's, goes missing.

As long as state law allows, the system can also be used to notify neighbors when a sexual offender moves into their neighborhood. The police department could also use the system to alert residents if an inmate escapes from the local jail or the Green River Correctional Complex.

"The fact it can call 1,000 numbers in 60 seconds is invaluable," DeArmond said. "Instead of just our guys out looking, it will be a whole community out looking."

The department has not had to use the alert system since it joined it May 17.

DeArmond said many families are used to hanging up when they hear an automated voice on the other end, but he hopes they'll stop and listen to see if it's an alert from them.

"The first words are 'A child is missing,' " he said. "In successful cases, the child has been found after an average of 90 minutes."

The Greenville Police Department is so excited about the program, it has become advocates for it. Robertson has already been talking to the Central City Police Department about jumping on board, and DeArmond said he's been sending information to every department in the area.

"If they want more information, they can contact me," he said. The Greenville Police Department number is 338-3133. The program also has a Web site, .

Those who only use cell phones or who have unlisted numbers can also register their address and contact information through the Web site if they would like to be contacted if a child is missing.

Copyright (c) 2007, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. 

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