Faces of the AMBER Alert Network: Tennessee
Tennessee AMBER Alert Coordinator Says There is No Greater Reward Than Recovering a Child in Harm's Way
Shelly Smitherman is the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Criminal Intelligence Unit/ Fusion Center. She oversees the AMBER Alert/Endangered Child Program, Human Trafficking analysts, and the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry. Smitherman has been with the TBI for 18 years and has worked in the Middle Tennessee Drug Division, Training Division, and Criminal Intelligence Unit. Shelly received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Belmont University. She is also a graduate from the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy and LEAD Tennessee. ASAC Smitherman began her career with the State of Tennessee in 1996 as a case manager with the Department of Children’s Services (DCS). While employed at DCS, she conducted severe child physical and sexual abuse investigations. In 1999, she was hired by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission as a Special Agent. Shelly lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the proud mother of 2 children (ages 18 and 14) and 4 dogs.
WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HELPS MAKE IT SUCCESSFUL?
We have an amazing team at TBI that supports our AMBER Alert program in Tennessee. We have 16 intelligence analysts who are on-call and assist with AMBER Alerts. Team members train together regularly to ensure we are always ready to respond quickly when an AMBER Alert is issued.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO FIND MISSING AND ABDUCTED CHILDREN?
I am humbled to oversee the Tennessee AMBER Alert/Missing Children Program. There is no greater reward than being part of locating a child who is in harm’s way; this has been the most rewarding job in all my 23 years of state service. Every recovered child is a reminder of the critical importance the AMBER Alert.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN MAINTAINING THE EFFECTIVENESS AND STRENGTH OF YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM?
Although we have little turnover in our unit, it is difficult to keep local law enforcement trained on the protocol for issuing an alert, due to changing personnel. We provide onsite training across the state throughout the year to ensure law enforcement officers are aware of the requirements for AMBER Alert issuance. The training includes guidelines for preparing local agencies before a child abduction occurs in their communities.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH YOUR AMBER ALERT PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE? WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE PROGRAM?
I am always communicating with my AMBER Alert partners from other states and searching for the best technology we can utilize to notify the public rapidly and provide as much detail as possible in order to resolve missing children cases quickly. We have recently updated our WEA message through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that directs the public to the TBI Twitter page. This allows us to quickly provide details to every cell phone in the state.
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?
We had a recent AMBER Alert that involved a 12-year-old victim who was safely recovered by law enforcement. This case reminded everyone of the importance of agencies working together for one goal - the safe return of the child. The recovery of the victim was a result of successful collaboration between several local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. The child was recovered at a building in Nashville that had a billboard directly outside displaying the AMBER Alert poster from NCMEC.
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?
In my 23 years of working for the state of Tennessee, I have had the opportunity to work a variety of investigations that have prepared me for this role as the AMBER Alert Coordinator.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER AMBER ALERT PARTNERS?
I urge other AMBER Alert Coordinators to build relationships with their counterparts from other states. I have also developed great relationships with the people at the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College, as well as with NCMEC; they have been great partners in coordinating various training events in Tennessee for local, state, and federal agencies.