Jennifer Viets has been the Montana AMBER Alert Coordinator since 2012. She has been the state’s Missing Persons Clearinghouse Manager since 2009. Viets started as a training officer for Montana’s Criminal Justice Information Network in 1994. She also worked as a 911 public safety dispatcher and supervisor for five years.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR AMBER ALERT AND CLEARINGHOUSE PROGRAM, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE YOUR PROGRAMS SUCCESSFUL?
I am not sure I would use the word unique, but I think there are two keys to our successful programs: 1) the relationships we have built with Montana’s law enforcement agencies and Montana’s AMBER Alert partners; and 2) the passion and dedication of our staff.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT AND CLEARINGHOUSE PROGRAMS?
No budget, very small staff, duties and “other duties as assigned” affect our ability to have the time to practice and stay as sharp and current as we would like. Also managing contact lists for media, high turnover, getting timely information when we have an alert, and delay in reporting parties contacting us; these are all challenges we face and work to improve.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT AND CLEARINGHOUSE PROGRAMS IN THE FUTURE?
It would be great to use a national AMBER Alert program so states could more quickly share alerts.
PLEASE SHARE DETAILS ABOUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SUCCESS STORY IN WORKING A MISSING CHILD CASE.
It was amazing to be a part of the February 2016 AMBER Alert for four-year-old Maci Lilley. She was abducted from a playground by John Lieba. The whole community responded to the AMBER Alert. A citizen, aware of the alert, saw Lieba and gave him a ride to the nearest law enforcement officer. The suspect initially refused to cooperate, but later told investigators he had strangled Maci. He drew a map to where he left her body in an abandoned vehicle parked within an old grain silo. Officers found the vehicle and were relieved to discover she was alive. Lesson learned—never give up!
PLEASE DESCRIBE ANY WORK WITH TRIBAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AND TRIBAL CHILD PROTECTION PROGRAMS IN YOUR STATE.
Every child is important to us. We do not treat tribal children any differently. The same applies to tribal law enforcement agencies. They are treated with the same respect as any other law enforcement agency in Montana. If a tribal agency requests an AMBER Alert or Missing Endangered Person Advisory, and the circumstances meet the alert criteria, the alert is issued. Our strongest relationships with tribal law enforcement agencies occur when that agency has a Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN) terminal. Tribal agencies without a CJIN terminal often work with us through a local sheriff’s office, but we will take the call from any of them at any time. We are very fortunate because some of our tribal law enforcement agencies cross-deputize with the sheriff’s office and have strong partnerships. We have found it is important to visit tribal agencies in person when you can. One of the challenges we face is staff turnover at tribal agencies and changes in management control (Bureau of Indian Affairs vs. tribal). It can be hard to keep current contacts. My goal would be for tribal agencies to know the state AMBER Alert program is here to serve them and all they need to do is call if they need us.
HOW HAVE YOUR CAREER AND LIFE EXPERIENCES, INCLUDING YOUR WORK AS AN AMBER ALERT COORDINATOR AND CLEARINGHOUSE MANAGER, STRENGTHENED YOUR COMMITMENT TO HELPING ENDANGERED, MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?
I have been very fortunate that every missing child I have done an alert for has been located, although sadly four of them were deceased. I am driven to ensure when we issue an alert that the public gets it quickly and it has the most accurate and complete information possible.