Guest Blogger: Insp. Carole Bird (Retired), formerly Officer in Charge of the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada. Member of the Board of Directors of the Missing Children Society of Canada and AMBER Alert Europe and consultant for the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC).
When asked to develop and implement Canada’s national centre to assist law enforcement and death investigators with missing person and unidentified remains investigations, the challenges ranged from developing technical solutions to changing how these investigations were viewed by investigators.
It was readily apparent that to achieve our mandate, we needed to engage in dialogue – dialogue with other law enforcement agencies in Canada; dialogue with the private sector, which could help us reach out to the public; and dialogue with non-governmental agencies (NGOs), which could work alongside law enforcement to help advance efforts to locate missing children.
Working with other law enforcement agencies included consulting on national database design as well as on the development of training and consultative forums designed to advance investigations. Working with the private sector entailed collaborative efforts with companies who could extend our reach to the public via non-traditional communication avenues. For example, we worked with MSN.ca which developed a series of articles highlighting types of missing person investigations and which hosted a Cold Case Corner on MSN.ca.
Working with NGOs
Domestically, these dialogues contributed to the development of strategies and programs investigators would utilize when appropriate. Investigators wanting to push information to the public, in addition to conventional rapid emergency child alerts, could contact the Missing Children Society of Canada to have the alert sent out to any specified geographical area via their Search Program.
Internationally, working with ICMEC’s Global Missing Children’s Center provides unique advantages. These include the opportunity to work collaboratively through the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN) to:
- share best practices and research to support prevention efforts and investigations;
- participate in coordinated efforts to raise global awareness;
- access digital tools to assist in the search and recovery; and
- participate in a global community working together to ensure appropriate response when a child goes missing.
ICMEC’s GMCN consists of 27 member countries, with law enforcement and NGOs coordinating together to help keep children safe. Through the GMCN, ICMEC provides members with access to technology, tools, resources (including a global missing children’s database), and practitioners and experts in other countries who can easily be consulted with regarding investigational approaches, the development of programs or the delivery of training.
This community has proven to be invaluable. For example, when a Canadian police officer contacted the Canadian national centre at the initial stages of an unidentified child investigation with elements of child trafficking, the circumstances prompted an outreach from the Canadian GMCN representative to one in The Netherlands. Through a discussion regarding the circumstances of the investigation, the Dutch GMCN representative pointed to a case in Ireland that resembled the case at hand. The case information that had been published in Irish newspapers was sent to the investigator in Canada who immediately determined that the alleged victim in the Irish investigation was the same alleged victim in Canada. While the investigation in Ireland had taken significant time and resources to investigate, Canadian investigators benefitted from their efforts and were able to conclude the case forthwith. This was wholly as a result of the ease with which GMCN participants could reach out to one another informally.
ICMEC also works with countries to provide training to law enforcement and prosecutors as well as representatives from justice departments, social services, NGOs, and other child-serving entities. Tailored to the needs of the requesting country and provided by recognized experts in the field of missing children, the training focuses on:
- applicable laws, policies and procedures;
- effective investigative techniques, roles and responsibilities;
- use of risk assessments and search techniques;
- links between child sexual exploitation and missing children;
- public alerts and rapid emergency child alert systems;
- awareness, prevention and the need for family advocacy;
- case scenarios.
The training frequently includes representatives from neighbouring countries who provide an overview of their missing children issue. This approach helps to broker dialogues regarding consistent approaches and standards within geographical areas while also providing an opportunity for participants to network in their regions.
ICMEC’s GMCN provides a forum for law enforcement and NGOs to share knowledge, raise awareness, and develop coordinated approaches. By joining the GMCN, members become a part of the global solution to the issues of missing and abducted children. For a complete list of GMCN membership benefits, check out the GMCN Member Brochure, or hear GMCN members explain in their own words why they are members.
Partnering with competent and capable NGOs, both domestically and internationally, can provide you with opportunities to more quickly and more effectively respond to missing children investigations.