TYPES OF SEARCHES
As a community, there are a number of ways you can get involved in the physical search for a missing child. However, it is very important that your Community Response Plan Team works in consultation with the investigating police service. The following types of searches are ways your community can participate in the search:
Ground searches are conducted in an effort to physically locate a missing child. These types of searches are typically led by the police. Any community participation in ground searches should be either coordinated by the police or conducted in consultation with the police. It is important to have a good understanding of the complex components involved in a ground search. Before initiating a ground search, the Search Operations Coordinator needs to consult with police and/or a reputable volunteer search and rescue agency (for a listing of volunteer search and rescue organizations in your area, go to: www.sarvac.ca.
If the police are not involved or has completed their formal search, the Community Response Plan Team may choose to conduct a search of their own. The Search Operations Coordinator needs to ensure that the police are informed of the team’s activities and that they share with them all of the information that is obtained through the search.
The Community Response Plan’s Search Operations Coordinator can play an invaluable role during this time simply by gathering a list of volunteers who are willing and able to assist with ground searches. The Search Operations Coordinator can let the lead investigator of the case know that this list of volunteers can be used as a resource that the police can use at their discretion. Having this task coordinated in advance will save valuable time when police identify areas to be searched and require additional resources. While it is possible that police will not require volunteers, it is worth the effort to be prepared.
Things the Search Operations Coordinator should take into consideration when organizing or participating in ground searches:
Discourage the immediate family from participating in the ground search. Objective searchers are necessary and the searching family may not be adequately prepared for the search outcome.
Maintain logs of all registered volunteer searchers (e.g. names, dates, times and areas searched).
Keep logs of areas searched, the date and time when areas were searched, the volunteer searchers involved, any individuals encountered, any observations, etc.
Know the limitations of the volunteer search effort — if any information or evidence is found, immediately have the police come and attend to this information.
Evidence may include anything from clothing, personal items, markings on the ground, hair, blood, documents, and any other traces of activity.
If any information or evidence is found:
Suspend the search immediately.
Do not touch, lift, move, or disturb evidence in any way!
Go get the police.
In most circumstances, door-to-door canvasses will be run by the police. There may be rare circumstances where the community assists the police or uses this method during times of low police engagement. This could be at the onset of a missing child event or even after police involvement has tapered. Before conducting this type of canvass, the Search Operations Coordinator should consult with police. If Community Response Plan Team proceeds with a door-to-door canvass there are special considerations the Search Operations Coordinator should keep in mind that will help protect the team and the investigation.
Things for the Search Operations Coordinator to consider when organizing or participating in a door-to-door canvass:
If there is an ongoing criminal investigation into the disappearance of the missing child, it is not recommended that the community conduct this activity.
Have a picture of the missing child for each search team. However, make sure that volunteers know not to give away these pictures and to protect them.
A community-driven canvass should strictly focus on asking for information about the whereabouts of the child. Examples of questions that might be asked include:
“Have you seen anything?”
“Have you heard anything?”
Never have volunteers conducting door-to-door canvasses on their own —always have them go in pairs or teams. The Search Operations Coordinator should organize the teams and record when each team leaves, where they’re going, and when they’re expected back.
Be aware that many people will not open their door if police identification is not shown.
Don’t be persistent. Homeowners do not have to answer the door. Note any houses where you were unable to contact the homeowner.
Have each team record which houses they’ve gone to, who they’ve spoken to, who they’ve not spoken to, etc.
Be aware of language and/or cultural issues.
In most circumstances, door-to-door canvasses will not be an area of search coordinated or delivered by the community. Door- to-door canvasses are more often a component of a police investigation.
Enlisting the Community:
When a child is missing, the more people who are aware and armed with information (such as a photo of the child), the better. The Search Operations Coordinator should work closely with the Public Awareness Coordinator to engage and enlist the community. In most cases, it’s vital to have public involvement, as they can become the eyes and ears of a police investigation. In partnership with the police, there are a number of different methods that can be used to mobilize the public. The importance of engaging the public at large should never be overlooked
Things for the Public Awareness Coordinator to consider:
Talk to people. Engage friends in order to send information with regards to the missing child to a larger audience. See the Raising Awareness section for important considerations and ideas.
Visit the child’s school and talk to their friends, their friend’s parents, their neighbours, their coaches etc.
Visit places where the child would participate in extracurricular activities (such as sports, art, dance, theatre etc.) and enlist the support of people there.
Volunteers can assist in this effort by engaging their own networks of friends, family and acquaintances. While not necessarily a part of the official search team, notifying employers, friends, and neighbours, will quickly increase the overall community involvement and will be of benefit to the search.
An AMBER Alert may be an option in the rare case of a serious, time-critical child abduction. For more information on the Amber Alert system, go to: http://www.canadasmissing.ca/part/index-eng.htm.
Contact missingkids.ca to engage the missingkidsALERT system. This system allows for the rapid and targeted dissemination of missing child posters.
With the help of the Administrative Coordinator, create and distribute missing child poster notifications throughout your community. See guidelines for poster development and distribution in the Public Awareness section.
Engage the media in your search. Ask the media to assist in alerting the public to be on the lookout for the missing child. See the Public Awareness section for more information.