By Denise Gee Peacock
When a child goes missing, law enforcement response time is critical. So is having the right tools.
An endeavor to donate nearly every technological resource necessary for responding to missing and abducted children cases – a rugged laptop, digital camera, scanner, and more – is now underway thanks to the AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) initiative, a component of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP), funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018.
These Technology Toolkits are being provided to Tribal communities that currently administer their own AMBER Alert program, or that participate in (or are in the process of adopting or joining) a regional or state AMBER Alert plan.
So far, dozens of the Technology Toolkits have been distributed to Tribal law enforcement agencies (LEAs) spanning from Alabama to Washington. The goal is to ultimately provide a total of 150 Toolkits to agencies that request them, said AIIC Program Manager Tyesha Wood.
“The Toolkit doesn’t give tribes the capacity to initiate an AMBER Alert on their own. It’s a source of supplemental equipment to help agencies expedite their work in finding missing and endangered children,” said Wood, a member of the Navajo Nation and former law enforcement detective.
Getting the 41-pound packages to their destinations – often in remote areas – is not always easy. Many Tribes use post office boxes for mailing addresses, so the Toolkits sometimes need to be re-routed to locations that can pose a challenge for delivery drivers.
“It’s a special privilege to deliver the toolkits in person,” said Wood, who is assisted by AIIC Liaison Valerie Briebecas. “As we meet the community’s leadership, there’s a bond that forms, which is nice, and we plan future collaborative work, including training initiatives.”
“It’s also been rewarding to see each Tribe’s environment and experience any challenges they may have,” such as a lack of cellphone coverage or knowledge about state or regional AMBER Alert plans. “Understanding each Tribe’s needs gives us insight into their way of life, their community. And that’s important, because every Tribe is unique,” Wood said.
The AIIC team kicked off the Technology Toolkit initiative on March 22, 2022, with a visit to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation in Cary, North Carolina.
Cherokee Nation Police Chief Josh Taylor was happy to receive both the Toolkit and the AIIC visitors. “This Toolkit provides us with the equipment to be successful in Indian Country,” he said at an event to honor the occasion. “And with the opportunity for additional training, we will benefit from staying connected with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program.”
AMBER Alert Coordinator Nona Best, Director of the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, agreed. “This Toolkit will ensure that if a child goes missing, the most effective, efficient, and quickest response time will be in the hands of the Cherokee Nation Police Department.”
Speaking before a large crowd, AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen noted, “It’s unusual to see such a phenomenal partnership between a state agency and a tribe, and the great work being done here. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Tribe and the North Carolina AMBER Alert Coordinator should be commended for their collaborative efforts to bring missing children home.”
Another Technology Toolkit presentation took place May 2, 2022, at the Navajo Nation Police Department in Window Rock, Arizona.
“Preparation and coordination are key to bringing a child home safely, and the Toolkits will assist our law enforcement officers if a child should be reported missing. Responding officers can access the kit and have everything they need to send out an alert as quickly as possible while still in the field, including in rural areas,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. His administration is now working to expand the AMBER Alert system and provide a comprehensive 911 system that can effectively cover the largest tribal nation in the U.S., spanning 27,000 square miles in three states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah).
In 2016, 11-year-old Navajo Nation member Ashlynne Mike was abducted and later found murdered. A lack of coordinated response and jurisdictional understanding led to a delay in the issuance of an AMBER Alert, prompting her mother, Pamela Foster, to lobby legislators to enact a law to ensure such a tragedy never happens again.
“Through the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018, many partnerships were established between tribal communities and external agencies to protect our children,” said Navajo Nation First Lady Phefelia Nez. “Many families know the personal heartbreak and trauma of missing loved ones on the Navajo Nation and throughout Indian Country. Multiple jurisdictional systems have historically failed the victims, their families, and survivors. Today we have to set a new tone of hope on this issue that impacts our homes and tribal communities.”
Navajo Nation Police Chief Daryl Noon added, “One of the things we recognize is we can’t do this alone. We will continue to welcome the support from our community partners, especially for AMBER Alert initiatives, and remain focused and committed to the protection of our children here in the Navajo Nation.”
In addition to receiving the Toolkit, Tribal AMBER Alert program personnel and law enforcement officers involved in AMBER Alerts and child protection in their communities are being invited to access the Partner Portal on the AMBER Advocate website. With portal membership, they can connect with other AMBER Alert partners and find additional resources to assist in AMBER Alert program work, as well as first response and investigative efforts for endangered missing and abducted child cases.
These resources are provided to tribes at no charge thanks to efforts by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to facilitate implementation of the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act. Programs and action items within the Act are designed to provide Tribes with access to state, regional, and Tribal AMBER Alert plans and improve response to endangered missing and abducted children in Indian Country.
“The Toolkit provides many technologies needed when responding to and investigating missing and abducted children. By creating a response plan when a child goes missing, and working with state and federal law enforcement agencies, Tribes will be one step closer to bringing their missing children home,” Wood said, adding, “I just wish we could visit every tribe in the nation.”
For more information on AMBER Alert in Indian Country training, technical assistance, and/or resources – including the Technology Toolkit – contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call 877/712-6237, or visit https://amber-ic.org.