AMBER ALERT TRAINING & TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM ADMINISTRATOR SHARES VISION FOR PROTECTING CHILDREN
Jim Walters has accomplished a lot since becoming AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) Administrator in July 2014. Nearly 40 years in law enforcement and the military has helped prepare him for the critical task at hand, and he is still driven to learn and do more to help endangered, missing and abducted children.
Walters remembers working as an investigator on an abduction case involving three children taken by a known sexual predator. The case occurred before the creation of the AMBER Alert system and before training was available through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
“Mistakes were made in that case that allowed the perpetrator to slip through our fingers in the early hours of the investigation,” said Walters. “It took 56 days to track down that man and recover the three children. Those were 56 of the longest days ever.”
“I want to make sure investigators today have the tools they need so they don’t make the mistakes we did back then. And so those children can be recovered and brought home safely.”
Under Jim Walters’ leadership, and through the efforts of his AATTAP team, many important accomplishments have been realized.
- The Program is reaching increased numbers of training participants at a lower cost by partnering with local law enforcement agencies to host and market training brought to their local areas by AATTAP.
- A Tribal Database website provides both publicly-available and secure/credentialed information and resources to tribal communities and law enforcement to support development of comprehensive child protection and recovery strategies.
- The AMBER Advocate website provides a vast array of public information and resources, as well as a secure/credentialed Partners Portal for collaboration amongst state AMBER Alert Coordinators, Missing Person Clearinghouse Managers and Child Abduction Response Team (CART) members (AMBERAdvocate.org).
- More than 45 new families of missing, exploited and abducted children have joined with AATTAP to participate in a series of Family and Survivor Roundtable events, giving them a voice to share critically important information on their experiences, lessons learned and needed training for first responders, investigators and prosecutors about working with families in the aftermath of an abduction.
- New 1-2 day workshops have been developed, providing participants with the targeted and specific skills they need in an efficient yet thorough manner.
Never tiring in these pursuits, Walters is committed to continuing work in these areas, and has set new goals and priorities with his team for the future.
Walters plans to develop and deliver onsite evidence-based training to improve the speed and effectiveness of law enforcement’s response in the following case types.
- Missing, abducted and endangered children
- Child trafficking
- Endangered high-risk youth
- Special populations of children at-risk, including at-risk children in tribal communities
“The key here is evidence-based training,” said Walters. “We want to be sure that what we are teaching represents the best practices, best tactics and techniques for responding to these threats against children.”
“We have over a decade of delivering training and technical assistance on these topics and work with some of the greatest investigators and service providers in the world.”
Walters hopes to combine that past experience with the latest technology and input from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the FBI and other child protection partners. He is also committed to ensuring critical information from surviving family members of missing and abducted children and the investigators who worked those cases is carefully integrated into evidence-based training.
More training access
An important focus of AATTAP’s work is to afford everyone equitable access to quality training; regardless of geographic location and work schedule. Walters and his team want to ensure all those working in child protection and everyone concerned with family and child safety can get the same level of information and resources. This is accomplished by offering eLearning –through both self-directed/anytime online training as well as scheduled live webinar events – and through onsite technical assistance that can be requested by agencies and/or jurisdictions and brought to their areas through collaboration with AATTAP and the requestor’s local/partner agencies.
“We specifically want to target those communities with at-risk populations and those who have a hard time getting to training or accessing resources, whether it is tribal communities, rural agencies or immigrant communities that need our training,” said Walters.
This goal includes two major initiatives. The first is developing “Train the Trainer” programs for AATTAP’s investigative courses. This involves partnering with agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs Police Academy, state and regional Child Abduction Response Team (CART) programs and others, so that more certified instructors can be trained and thus available to deliver training at the local level.
The second initiative involves a comprehensive review of more than 300 CART programs trained since 2005. Each team will be evaluated to see if additional training is needed. Each team will also be encouraged to prepare for and complete the US-DOJ CART Certification process administered by AATTAP.
“I believe strongly we have the ability to make major improvements in how we prepare first responders, investigators and service providers for the critical call of an endangered missing or abducted child,” said Walters. “These projects, along with our traditional training offerings, can make the difference when time is critical and training and skills are put to the test.”