Faces of the AMBER Alert Network: Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania AMBER Alert Coordinator focuses on training to bring abducted children home safely
Corporal Shawn Kofluk is the Pennsylvania Missing Person Clearinghouse Manager and AMBER Alert Coordinator. He is the supervisor of the Criminal Investigation Assessment Unit (CIA) at the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) and supervises seven AMBER Alert designees.
Kofluk has done undercover work and has been with the PSP for more than 25 years. He’s been involved in numerous homicide and large-scale criminal investigations—including cases involving the Nalani Johnson abduction and murder, child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky, serial murderers, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and a prison guard who was convicted as a serial rapist.
Kofluk has received numerous awards and commendations, including Trooper of the Year. He was recently interviewed for an episode of the TV show “Bloodline Detectives.”
He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked in the mental health field for several years prior to going into law enforcement. He is married with four children.
What is unique to your AMBER Alert and missing persons programs, and what do you think makes them successful?
Currently we have eight AMBER designees who can issue both AMBER Alerts and Missing Endangered Person Alerts (MEPA). We implemented a policy requiring monthly trainings and mock alerts to keep everyone prepared.
What motivates you to find missing and abducted children?
Probably the thought of my own children being abducted or missing. Having seen these types of investigations and knowing what abductors are capable of gives me with perspective. This is a parent’s worst nightmare and I never want to see any family go through something like this.
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 very first AMBER Alert I issued involved multiple children. I was experiencing technical issues with our software and kept running out of time for the recording because we had so much descriptive information for the children and abductor. As soon as I got the recording right, some background noise ruined it.
Regardless, I stayed calm and I was able to work through all the problems. We issued the AMBER Alert and recovered the children safely. I learned that as long as I stay calm and rely on all resources, we can work through any issues that may arise.
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?
I have a unique perspective because I’m a parent and I have investigated many horrible crimes over the years. Once you become involved with the AMBER Alert program, it sort of takes on a life of its own, and you find yourself becoming very protective over your state’s program. It helps me understand the importance of protecting the integrity of our program.
What would you like to see happen with your AMBER Alert program and other programs in the future?
I would like to see our AMBER Alert program continue to grow and find new ways to get AMBER and MEPA alerts out quicker. I would also like to see our CIA Unit continue to provide training to state and municipal law enforcement entities to prepare them to respond to an abducted child emergency.
We are working on a new initiative involving an annual web-based training that will be mandatory. This training would provide our people with knowledge on how to activate an AMBER Alert, the activation criteria, and the importance of speed when issuing and responding to these types of emergencies.
How has training helped you in AMBER Alert cases?
Training is crucial. In my opinion, you can never have enough. Whether you are training first responders on how to handle a child abduction emergency or training AMBER Alert designees on how to actually put out an alert, it all has one goal in mind, the quick response and activation of the alert to save the life of a child.
Our unit teaches as much as we can, and we are always looking to find new audiences and formats to push out training. We are constantly educating and updating police officers, prosecutors, judges, lawmakers, members of the media, and the public about our AMBER Alert program.
What advice would you give to other AMBER Alert partners?
Implement policies requiring training within your department on how to respond to child abduction emergencies, time factors involved, and issuance procedures for an AMBER Alert. Our policy requires officers to take the training, so they better understand the program.
Institute a training protocol for AMBER Alert designees that includes holding drills and other exercises to prepare for issuing an alert. The policy is needed so folks don’t become lazy.
Push for checklists within your department, specifically for first responding officers. The checklists ensure officers have all the appropriate information needed for issuing an AMBER Alert which helps to prevent any delays.
Always be on the lookout for new technology to achieve quicker AMBER Alert issuance. And support your designees to the fullest; this can be an extremely stressful job.