Brian Frost is the Missing Person Specialist for the Montana Department of Justice. He spent the first seven years of his career as a dispatcher and spent time speaking with family members of missing loved ones and witnessing firsthand the start of AMBER Alerts. He then began working for the state’s Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN), which also doubles as the Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse. For three years he served as a training officer for CJIN, providing online and instructor-led training in all aspects of CJIN/NCIC/Nlets and missing persons. In April of 2020, he was designated as the agency’s Missing Person Specialist, and now acts as a liaison between families and law enforcement for missing persons. He also provides training, resources, and outreach on missing persons to both the public and law enforcement.
What is unique to your AMBER Alert/missing persons program, and what do you think makes it successful?
Our AMBER Alert partners and the citizens of Montana; we have terrific AMBER Alert partners that take the goal of AMBER Alerts very seriously. Whether it is law enforcement, the National Weather Service, Montana Department of Transportation, Montana Lottery, NCMEC, or the Montana Public Broadcasters Association – all are dedicated professionals with an interest and determination in finding missing and abducted children. Additionally, our citizens are the best. Montanans have a reputation of being friendly and helpful, and I think that extends to helping civically. We constantly hear from the public when AMBER Alerts are issued and people genuinely care. We all want a positive outcome.
What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?
I believe it’s a combination of things – when you talk to family members of missing loved ones, you can’t 100% relate to how they feel because you’re not in their shoes, but you can do the best job that you’re capable of in hopes of reuniting them. The relief in their voices when there is a positive outcome – makes it worth it.
Also, my wife is eight months pregnant with our first child. 2020 has been a strange year and it feels like a bit of a rollercoaster, but it is comforting knowing that should anything happen to our son, a group of AMBER Alert partners and supporters in Montana is standing by.
Tell us 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?
The Montana DOJ recently issued an AMBER Alert on behalf of the Great Falls Police Department. A non-custodial mother took her two children out of school and fled with another male suspect. We were aware of several reasons to believe the children were in immediate danger. Within just a few minutes after the alert was issued, tips began pouring in. The suspects, along with the children and vehicle, were spotted by witnesses at a gas station approximately 15 miles away from the abduction. The suspects fled the gas station and a sheriff’s deputy pulled them over on a traffic stop shortly afterwards. Both children were recovered without incident. I believe it is a testament to how speed, accuracy and working together can lead to a positive result – in only a few short minutes.
What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?
I would like to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible. I recently attended a webinar that discussed some of the new (and existing) alerting technologies. Some of the technology included hardware features like sirens and public broadcasting speakers – but others demonstrated Wi-Fi hot spot kiosks that display advertising and could also display public alerts. Montana is mostly rural, but I would like to see us keep updating and adapting our program to keep it as effective as possible.
How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?
Training helps me see how everyone comes together, what roles that individual agencies and partners play and how information is processed. AMBER Alerts are low frequency but high-stress and high public-exposure events. I am a firm believer in the IPAWS test lab, practicing checklists and knowing your resources – who to reach and constantly evaluating protocols. Training keeps everyone sharp.
What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?
Provide training and outreach when you can. I think some of the best feedback I ever received was to keep training and keep reinforcing what you teach. We provide AMBER Alert training to new police officers as they attend Montana Law Enforcement Academy (MLEA), but with all the different subjects the new peace officers learn – it is information overload. You can teach the AMBER Alert criteria, but it may not stick when they are balancing felony traffic stops, interviewing techniques and evidence collecting. The best we can do is to continue to reinforce and provide guidance on missing persons and alerts throughout their law enforcement career – not just at the beginning.