By Paul Murphy
Captain Ronnie Hampton began serving as Oklahoma’s AMBER Alert Coordinator in March 2020. Hampton also serves as the Commander of the Property and Evidence Division at the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP). He comes from a family of law enforcement; his grandfather and father were both police officers and elected sheriffs. Hampton’s own career in law enforcement began in 1988, working as a confinement officer, as well as an officer for both tribal and municipal police departments. He has worked the past 25 years with the OHP.
WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM AND WHAT HELPS MAKE IT SUCCESSFUL?
An all-hands-on-deck approach is the key to our success. Our media relations team is heavily involved from the moment we issue an AMBER Alert. We also implement a Signal One Plan, which involves having all state troopers in the 77 counties of Oklahoma stop their routine patrols and position themselves at strategic locations statewide to watch for the suspect’s vehicle. We also ask our troop commanders to work with their sheriffs and police chiefs to cover other locations where the suspect might be stopped and captured.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?
I’m motivated by the thought of the trauma a parent goes through when their child is missing. It is critical for parents to know every possible avenue is being covered to return their child to them safe and alive.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING A STRONG AND EFFECTIVE AMBER ALERT PROGRAM?
One of the most pressing challenges is the mass exodus of professionals in law enforcement who are retiring or leaving the profession. Adding to that challenge is the importance of constantly ensuring the newly promoted officers who take their positions are trained to respond effectively to missing and abducted child cases.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE?
I would like to increase criminal intelligence positions; we can always have more than one crime analyst working intel and vetting leads from the outset of the case. For example, one component of intelligence analysis is critical in these cases: Today’s technology requires experts to begin cellphone tracking within minutes.
WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SUCCESS STORIES IN WORKING A MISSING CHILD CASE? HOW DID THE AMBER ALERT SUPPORT THE OUTCOME? WHAT WERE IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED?
About a year ago, a suicidal and homicidal non-custodial mother was released from jail. She immediately traveled to her father’s house and shot him in the head as he answered his front door. Her two children were next to her father and she took them to an unknown destination.
Our intel said she would murder her children and then commit suicide, so time was critical. We used the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to issue a statewide AMBER Alert. The mother made a stop and a person who received the WEA saw her and called police.
The suspect then fled in the vehicle with her children. We issued another, more targeted WEA alert with the most recent information. Within 10 minutes, a local officer in the next county spotted the vehicle and started a 10-mile chase, eventually recovering both children safely.
In those situations I find the WEA sometimes reaches the on-duty officers more quickly than the dispatch center can disseminate a general broadcast over the radio.
We were told the children would likely not be recovered alive. The emotions I felt when I called the sheriff to let him know the children were safe was one of the best feelings in the world.
HOW HAVE YOUR CAREER AND LIFE EXPERIENCES, INCLUDING YOUR WORK AS AN AMBER ALERT COORDINATOR, STRENGTHENED YOUR COMMITMENT TO HELPING ENDANGERED MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?
Being in law enforcement the past 34 years, I thought I knew nearly everything there was to know. But the classes I’ve taken through NCJTC and NCMEC have opened my eyes. I also am learning from other states about programs they are doing for endangered and missing children. This knowledge has strengthened my commitment to ensure Oklahoma learns from all these robust, outstanding programs, and implements them for our citizens.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS?
Educate, educate, and educate. Start training the 911 operators, line-level officers, search and rescue teams, law enforcement administrators, and detectives on how quickly information needs to flow from the first moment a child is reported missing.
We should take every opportunity as AMBER Alert Coordinators to talk to law enforcement groups and conferences. It is important for everyone to know how the state’s AMBER Alert program works.