Technology is playing a bigger role in child abduction and missing person cases in the Brazos Valley region of central Texas.
The IT department of Bryan, Texas, has outfitted the Brazos Valley Child Abduction Response Team (BVCART) with a leads tracking system that’s more potent, along with computer support, interoperable radio communication and extensive GIS mapping capabilities. So if an Amber Alert is issued in the seven-county area, the team has an array of technology and tech experts to rely upon when searching for the kidnapped child.
Gustavo Roman, IT director for Bryan, said the partnership between the BVCART and his staff began a few years ago, when College Station Police Department Lt. Charles Fleeger approached him about technology that could help the BVCART log calls and leads from tipsters. Fleeger and Roman talked about an older Access database that already was being used for the task, but required manual data entry.
Roman and his staff decided they could do better by leveraging the city’s Laserfiche document imaging system to give the group real-time access to the leads that call-takers received. The Bryan IT department modified the technology at no cost to the city, creating a digital solution that tracks all information during an abduction case.
Now call-takers input leads directly into a database that is accessible in the field in real time via the Web. The information can then be searched remotely by all members of the BVCART, so they can corroborate tips with any existing leads.
“This is one of those projects that we hope we never have to implement on a really bad case,” Roman said, adding that the BVCART does abduction exercises twice a year. “But it’s very comforting to know that if we do have to use it, we’re going to have an effect on getting the kid back safely.”
IT staff in Bryan aren’t just providing technology to the BVCART. Roman and various members of his staff are also members of the abduction response team.
The Amber Alert Network of Brazos Valley — a cooperative effort between area law enforcement agencies, emergency management personnel and local media — began the process of establishing the BVCART in 2008. The team, which was certified by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2011, comprises 20 participating agencies throughout central Texas.
Fleeger is the chairman and the police department representative of the local Amber Alert network.
It was during that certification process that Fleeger felt the BVCART needed a stronger method of communicating. Fleeger explained that because not every city and county has the same resources, a call center located in one area was needed, but the data had to be accessible by everyone out in the field.
Bryan’s Web-based document management system gave BVCART members the flexibility they needed so that decision-makers could work remotely and still be tied into the newest information in real time.
“If you get a sheriff or police chief, they aren’t going to want to be sitting in a call center outside of their own jurisdiction,” Fleeger said. “They are going to want to be where the offense occurred.”
The Bryan IT department has assisted the BVCART in other ways. In addition to the leads tracking system, Bryan has opened its GIS capability to the team.
When a search for an abducted child or missing person is initiated, those taking part in the rescue use handheld GPS devices or attach GPS devices to dogs aiding in the search. As areas are investigated, the locations are recorded. When the search of a location has concluded, the data from the devices are downloaded onto Bryan’s existing GIS maps so that an accurate account of areas searched is maintained.
“Data has shown that if a child is abducted and murdered, 75 percent of the time they have been killed in the first three hours,” Fleeger said. “So the ability to track and have documentation of what was searched, where it was searched and how thoroughly it was searched — even from the initial responding officers — is very critical.”
To the relief of parents in the region, there hasn’t been a need to activate the BVCART for a child abduction case. But the team was scrambled to assist in various missing persons’ cases. In one situation, an elderly woman went missing in a heavily wooded park area. The woman was found thanks in part to the GIS capabilities at the abduction response team’s disposal, according to Fleeger.
Roman said GPS has improved the speed and efficiency of searches, but more importantly, the system is easy to use. He called simplicity a key factor, given the stress involved during a child abduction case. He said the goal of his IT group is to make sure things run smoothly.
“We just want to make sure when [members of the BVCART] boot up their computers, they work,” Roman said. “When they key up the radios, they work and when they do the GPS, we have a map ready for them when they get back.”
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.