Faces of the AMBER Alert Network: Florida
Florida Clearinghouse Supervisor Jon Roddenberry has a heart for missing children—especially children with autism
Jon Roddenberry has worked for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for 23 years. He has been the supervisor for the Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC) since December of 2019.
Before that Roddenberry worked with the Sex Offender Registry to help locate absconded sex offenders and predators. The FDLE honored Roddenberry and his team in 2017 for Innovation of the Year for locating high-risk sex offenders in Florida.
The Registry and Clearinghouse work closely together and Roddenberry is grateful for the opportunity to use his experience and skills in helping locate missing persons.
What is unique to your AMBER Alert/missing persons program, and what do you think makes it successful?
In 2000, Florida became the second state in the nation to establish a statewide AMBER Alert program and in the years since we have always tried to utilize the latest technologies and systems to assist in alerting the public as well as searching and locating missing persons. Additionally, MEPIC has a squad of crime intelligence analysts that has been trained to not only issue alerts but to utilize the latest analytical and investigative systems in order to assist in the location of missing persons.
What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?
I have three daughters and always try to approach my job from the perspective of a parent who has a missing child or loved one.
Please share details about your most memorable success story in working a missing child case. How did the AMBER Alert support the outcome? What were the most important lessons learned?
In March 2021, a young male diagnosed as non-verbal autistic wandered off from his home in Jacksonville, Florida. FDLE was contacted by local law enforcement in the area regarding the case and an Enhanced Missing Child Alert was issued by MEPIC. An Enhanced Missing Child Alert is similar to an AMBER Alert but on a smaller scale. It allows MEPIC to issue a targeted Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) to a defined area such as a neighborhood or area within a 5-mile radius of where the child went missing. As a result of the targeted WEA, a citizen who received the alert on their phone saw the child in the area and the child was recovered safely.
What makes these types of cases unique is that autistic children are more likely to wander from their homes. They are often drawn to water and more likely to drown than the general population. During the request for the alert, local law enforcement reported many nearby bodies of water in the immediate area of where the child went missing. So more than likely, the issuance of the alert and subsequent targeted WEA may have saved the child’s life.
What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?
I would like to see the continued use of the latest technologies to assist in notifying the public on AMBER Alerts. I would also like to see more resources on the state and federal level to assist states with funding to help build their Clearinghouses and missing persons programs in their states.
How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?
Training is huge. In MEPIC we do mock AMBER Alert calls on a regular basis with our analysts, alert coordinator and supervisors. This training helps ensure that when MEPIC receives a request for an AMBER Alert that everyone is prepared to disseminate the alert if needed in a timely, accurate and efficient manner. FDLE as an agency also provides strong analytical and professional development training to analysts that assist them in effectively doing their jobs.
What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?
Continue to seek out new technologies to assist with the issuance of alerts. Communicate with other states to inquire what types of alerts they issue and the technology they use to issue the alerts. Provide continual analytical training to your Clearinghouse staff and provide the resources needed for them to effectively do their jobs and assist with locating missing persons.