AMBER Alert Training Highlights – Fall 2017

Highlights from AMBER Alert trainings around the country and world


Just a month before Hurricanes Maria and Irma brought massive devastation in Puerto Rico, law enforcement officers in the U.S. territory had fortunately received training on how to find missing and abducted children.

The AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program’s event held August 23-24, 2017, had more than 450 participants representing all 13 regions of Puerto Rico. The event included presentations from a family member of an abducted child, lessons on how to interview high-risk victims and how to handle long-term missing person cases.

”The participants were engaged and they were eager to learn,” said Jesi Leon-Baron, regional liaison and project coordinator with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program. ”They were asking lots of questions. They wanted to know about the different scenarios and different tools to help them with their investigations, especially with high risk victims.”

This was the first AMBER Alert training in Puerto Rico in more than a decade. Participants discussed how to organize their resources and find funding to strengthen the territory’s AMBER Alert program and how to develop a Child Abduction Response Team.

“They really want to mimic the same systems we have here in the continental U.S. to find abducted children,” added Leon- Baron. “They know the need is there.”

Kay Vazquez, a criminal analyst for the Special Investigations Bureau and Clearinghouse for Missing Children for Puerto Rico said the training was highly useful.

“I especially enjoyed the presentations regarding long-term missing children cases and hope to implement some of the ideas in our investigations,” said Vazquez. “The presentations on high risk victims and trafficking also changed my perception of runaways and how our jurisdiction deals with this type of investigation. It was very gratifying to see other individuals who are committed in fighting child related crimes.”

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Law enforcement representatives from the U.S. and Mexico participated in a Cross-Border Abduction Response training July 20-21, 2017, in Tucson, Arizona. The presentation was part of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program’s Southern Border Initiative (SBI), and focused on the southern border state AMBER Alert programs and how those states can work cooperatively with the Alerta AMBER in Mexico system. Participants engaged in challenging cross-border abduction scenario tabletop exercises to work through the process of identifying and understanding these resources and critically important coordination points.


Cindy McCain

Community members, law enforcement and others working in prevention and response to the problems of sex trafficking came together for a community workshop offered by the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC) September 14, 2017. Throughout the event, participants listened and learned from a panel of survivors of sex trafficking, discussing important questions and dynamics which must be understood in order to carry out effective prevention and recovery work. Cindy McCain of the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Program also addressed law enforcement officers through a video conference during the workshop.

“It was an honor to have Cindy McCain join us,” said Jason Sterling, AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program Manager. “Her program educates, raises awareness and implements innovative, action-based solutions to end modern slavery.”


OttoOtto is Ohio’s first state-certified courthouse dog which allows him to sit in the witness box when a child or victim of crime is called to testify in court.

“He will give that unconditional love that kids sometimes never get,” added Romans. “It helps for better testimony or an interview. He will help kids who don’t want to be interviewed or do not feel comfortable enough to be interviewed.”

She remembers one child who did not want to be interviewed until Otto jumped on his lap. “He just started crying and then let go and told us what happened,” she said. “[Otto] works his magic.”

Romans urges more organizations to get a facilities dog, especially if they work with abduction, human trafficking and other abuse victims.

His full name is Ottimo, but this lab and retriever mix canine is often called “Awesome Otto.” He is a professionally trained companion that assists crime victims, witnesses and others in need during child forensic interviews, forensic medical exams and legal proceedings.

Otto was also a star guest at the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program’s June 2017 Multi-Disciplinary Response to High Risk Victims training in Columbus, Ohio.

Laura Romans is the Crime Victims Service Manager for the Harcum House Child Advocacy Center in Lancaster, Ohio. She takes Otto to trainings and when she works as a forensic interviewer of child abuse victims.

“Everyone loves him,” said Romans. “He is an emotional support for the children. When he is calm then the children are calm. They think it is amazing he will curl up with him.”

The dog was specifically bred and trained for two years by Canine Companions for Independence, an accredited organization of Assistance Dogs International. He has been present during more than 500 child interviews.