The Investigative Officer Checklist below is a resource to facilitate effective communication and documentation of valuable information in response to reports of missing or abducted children. Investigative processes are crucial to all parties involved in the search and recovery of a missing or abducted child. The Investigative officer checklist presents specific techniques for handling non-family abductions, family abductions, and runaways. Investigative officers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with this checklist prior to any reports of missing or abducted children.
DISCLAIMER: Please download these checklists as a PDF to your local device in order to maximize full capability and security. These checklists are a resource to guide the process of a missing child incident and are not meant to replace or supersede any local, state or federal policies or procedures that might exist for your jurisdiction. These checklists are meant to be a tool. Use of this resource does not entail liability on the part of Fox Valley Technical College or affiliated organizations.
1. Obtain briefing from the first responding officer and other on-scene personnel. Verify the accuracy of all descriptive information and other details developed during the preliminary investigation.
Meet with the first responder to obtain pertinent information about the investigation. This briefing should be conducted prior to interviews with family members of the missing child or witnesses who may have been identified during the initial stage of the case. The verification process should include all details developed during the preliminary investigation. During the interview process the investigator should be alert to facts or statements in conflict with those gathered by the first responder.
2. Carry out a neighborhood or area canvass using a standardized approach and questionnaire.
A thorough canvass of the neighborhood or area should be conducted without delay. The objective is to identify and interview all people within the abduction zone who may be able to provide information related to the incident.
- Verify that a command post is established. If not, make the necessary arrangements to correct the situation with the supervisory officer prior to canvassing.
- Call out pre-selected and trained volunteers, or execute a defined process for soliciting and vetting ad hoc volunteers if a pre-established volunteer group is not in place.
- Assign officers and staff on hand as supervisors to canvassing groups of volunteers. (The ideal ratio of supervisor to canvassing officers is 1:5.)
- Determine how far the canvass should extend.
- Identify sex offenders in the area.
- Use assignment sheet to record assignment updates throughout the investigation. Make this assignment sheet available to personnel working on the case. Assign evidence recorder, entry/exit recorder (who is also responsible for keeping event timetable).
3. Obtain a brief, recent history of family dynamics.
The investigative officer should interview the following individuals toward developing a victimology/victim profile in the case.
- Family members
- Any individuals or organizations that the child has been known to spend time with
- Neighbors or nearby families
- Appropriate persons with knowledge
- Teachers & classmates and bus drivers
- Employers & coworkers
4. Identify and further investigate reasons for any conflicting witness and/or interviewee information, working toward resolution of the conflicting elements.
The first responder and the investigative officer should “compare notes.” This collaborative evaluation will provide the investigative staff with a solid foundation upon which to structure future case directions. Further investigate toward resolution of any conflicting elements gathered through interviews and canvassing.
5. Collect article(s) of the child’s clothing for scent-tracking purposes. Review and evaluate all available information and evidence collected. Secure the child’s latest medical and dental records.
These items may contain hair or blood samples that may be useful as DNA evidence. Also look for pencils or toys that contain impressions the child’s teeth. Retrieve a description of birthmarks, scars, tattoos, missing teeth, eyeglasses, contacts, speech patterns, and behavioral traits. If possible, collect child ID kits and find photographs that show these unique features. Collect fingerprints, medical and dental records.
6. If applicable, contact landfill/ transfer station management and request they delay or at least segregate garbage and dumping containers from key investigative areas in cases where it is suspected there may be imminent danger to the missing child.
Contacting landfill/transfer station management is essential to the investigation. Halting or delaying the dumping of garbage can result in collecting pertinent details for the investigation. Connect with your local community department of waste management or public works.
7. Develop and execute an investigative plan.
Developing an investigative plan ensures the investigation stays focused and on-track. Prior to developing an investigative plan, conducting a scene assessment is needed to identify valuable evidence. Scene assessment allows for the development of a plan for the coordinated identification, collection, and preservation of physical evidence and identification of witnesses. It also allows for the exchange of information among law enforcement personnel and the development of investigative strategies.
The investigator(s) in charge should perform the following actions.
- Converse with the first responder(s) regarding observations/activities.
- Evaluate safety issues that may affect all personnel entering the scene(s) (e.g., blood-borne pathogens, hazards).
- Evaluate search and seizure issues to determine the necessity of obtaining consent to search and/or obtain a search warrant.
- Evaluate and establish a path of entry/exit to the scene to be utilized by authorized personnel.
- Evaluate initial scene boundaries.
- Determine the number/size of scene(s) and prioritize.
- Establish a secure area within close proximity to the scene(s) for the purpose of consultation and equipment staging.
- If multiple scenes exist, establish and maintain communication with personnel at those locations.
- Establish a secure area for temporary evidence storage in accordance with rules of evidence/chain of custody.
- Determine and request additional investigative resources as required (e.g., personnel/specialized units, legal consultation/ prosecutors, equipment).
- Ensure continued scene integrity (e.g., document entry/exit of authorized personnel, prevent unauthorized access to the scene).
8. Conduct a criminal-history background check on all principal suspects, witnesses, and participants in the investigation.
Ensure criminal background checks are conducted on all parties involved in the investigation. This includes parents, family members, witnesses, volunteers and suspects. Keep in mind that ALL suspects (including family members) are high priority.
9. Determine what additional resources and specialized services are required.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – If you believe the child is in fact missing/abducted, especially if it warrants the activation of an AMBER Alert, the FBI should be contacted as they can provide significant investigative resources.
- State/Local Police or Sheriff – To ensure you can respond fully to any activity that occurred outside of (or has moved across) tribal boundaries, you will need to include law enforcement from surrounding areas.
- State Missing Children Clearinghouse – If you need assistance with case registration, photo dissemination, logistical needs such as transportation of recovered children, etc.
- Specialized Units – Including the following;
- Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces
- Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS)
- National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) – requested through the FBI
- U.S. Marshalls Service
- Victim-Witness Services – Contact local crime victim services or Tribal Crisis Support. If you need assistance with managing the family of the missing child, you can include NCMEC’s Family Advocacy Division as well as their Exploited Children Division. This group/individual essentially serves as a first response social worker who provides updates to the family of the investigation’s progress.
- NCMEC’s Project ALERT®/Team Adam – If you require investigative consultants that can provide a rapid response to a critically missing children’s case, Team Adam should be contacted. If a child has been missing for a long period of time and the trail has gone cold, recruiting the expertise of Project ALERT® team members is recommended.
- CARTs – If the investigation requires a multi-disciplinary approach/various roles need to be filled, the Child Abduction Response Team should be summoned.
10. Ensure details of the case have been reported to NCMEC.
Call NCMEC toll-free at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678) to request assistance with this step.
- NCMEC has a Sex Offender Tracking Team (SOTT) available to any law enforcement agencies to serve as an information clearinghouse.
11. Prepare and update bulletins for local law enforcement agencies, missing children clearinghouse, FBI, and other appropriate agencies.
Include the following:
- Date of birth
- Date of emancipation
- Eye color
- Date of last known contact
- Location of last known contact
- Any critical-endangerment factors of the incident (caution-medical, caution-weapons, etc.).
- NCIC case/record number
- Originating (handing agency) contact phone number
- Public leads/tips contact number/email (see next item)
12. Establish a phone hotline for receipt of tips and leads. Consider establishing an email address and other methods of electronically receiving leads as well.
An information management system is an essential part of the overall investigative process. Depending on the resources available, it is best to utilize a computerized system to record, index, cross-reference, and retrieve the facts amassed during an investigation. Note: NCMEC can provide assistance with Case Management tools. Contact them at 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678).
Effective leads/tips intake systems should include the following elements.
- Proper staffing and supervision structures
- Specially trained personnel
- Scripted questions
- Phone recording capabilities to capture all conversations
- Coordination with other emergency operations centers
- Toll free number
13. Establish a leads management system to prioritize leads and help ensure each one is reviewed and followed up on.
NCMEC can assist with Leads Management tools designed to manage and prioritize leads in missing child investigations. Contact them at 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678).