By Jon Leiberman
“Holy cow, we need more hands on deck immediately.”
Tony Rodarte realized this while working child abduction cases early in his 20-year tenure with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) in Arizona.
“A child abduction response is a low-frequency event, but when they happen, there is a lot of stress,” Rodarte says. And compounding that stress? “We weren’t training regularly for such cases; we weren’t keeping up with best-practices; we weren’t coordinated,” he recalls. “Ultimately we created a team in conjunction with the state.”
Rodarte has been an active and instrumental member of Arizona’s statewide Child Abduction Response Team (CART) since its inception in 2011. The MCSD served as a host agency with the AZCART, and Rodarte served as the team’s co-coordinator in 2016.
Two years later, Rodarte retired from the MCSD, having spent the last 11 years there working in the homicide division. But post-retirement, his eagerness to continue refining the CART process – by sharing his experiences and lessons learned during his career – led him to become a subject matter expert for the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC) and AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP).
Klamath Falls, Oregon is a city of about 20,000 people and the gateway to Crater Lake National Park. It also was the site of a recent AATTAP CART training, during which Rodarte provided instruction alongside other NCJTC Associates committed to improving responses to cases involving endangered missing and abducted children.
“It was a great group in Oregon, and what made it great was the diversity,“ Rodarte says. “There was a mix of sworn officers, search and rescue personnel, civilians and others – all of them engaged and vigorously taking notes.”
The course Rodarte taught focuses on the most vital elements of a CART response, including activation and deployment; establishing incident command and field considerations for mobile command operations; search and canvass operations; volunteer management; and other physical and personnel resources that can improve the overall response to endangered missing and abducted child incidents.
“At night, during an active child abduction, is not the time to learn. Now is the time
Rodarte emphasized this best-practice principle and others while working with class attendees.
Julie Harper with the Klamath County Community Corrections Department had great things to say about the legal issues module. Rodarte “is an excellent speaker and kept my attention throughout his presentation,” she said after the class. “I liked that he brought some humor into the discussion, since it’s such a serious topic.”
A key objective of AATTAP’s CART training is to encourage collaboration among agencies and resource providers within jurisdictions, so that when missing children cases happen, there is a team approach.
"I firmly believe we are better together. A single child abduction response can cripple a small agency quickly. But if we can equip and prepare them with the necessary training and resources, then we are a step ahead."
NCTJC Associate/AATTAP CART instructor
“Everything that was taught will help me improve our response to missing children,” said Ryan Kaber of the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office.
Another key component of the training involves tabletop exercises that give participants from different agencies – and who have different roles within their law enforcement and public safety work – to think through elements of response and decision-making together.
“I enjoyed being able to work with others from different agencies to come up with answers and see what we did right and wrong,” said Craig Delarm of the Lake County Search and Rescue Department.
Course participants walked away with actionable ways to begin making a difference in their communities – and partnering with neighboring law enforcement agencies. “We hope to partner with the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office to create a team,” said Kami Wilton of the Klamath County Community Corrections Division.
Hearing such positive feedback left Rodarte energized and encouraged.
“I hope they never have to use the information – but if they do, they will be ready.”
“In a perfect world, we all hope to never need a CART response,” Rodarte says. “But the world we live in means such investigations will take place. So we have to be ready. And readiness involves participants not only retaining the fundamentals, but also building on that readiness when returning to their agencies.”
Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber spoke directly to just the sort of readiness Rodarte hopes to impart. “The information we obtained in this valuable training has better prepared us for responding in the initial hours of a missing child investigation,” he said. “We’ve already used some of the techniques we learned at this training in other high-profile investigations. The benefit was almost immediate.”
Learn more about the AATTAP’s CART training, and find an array of CART resources, at amberadvocate.org/cartresources.