Des Moines, Iowa – With warmer weather, children are outdoors more often participating in activities and sporting events, which takes their focus off of their surroundings, making them more vulnerable to abductors. The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) is reminding Iowans to be on the lookout for potential child abductions in spring and summer months, and to provide information to law enforcement when they see something that looks unusual.
DPS asks everyone to Speak Up for Children. Pay attention to unusual activity, and immediately call 911 if you think that a child could be in danger. The facts that will help law enforcement most:
- Describe the vehicle: color, general description, make/model, and if possible, license plate number (even a partial number and a county can help to identify a vehicle)
- Describe the people involved: Give the description of the driver and any passengers, as well as the description of the child and any other people in the area who might be witnesses. The description can include hair color, age, race/ethnicity, glasses, tattoos, features, clothing
- Time and location of the incident: If you call 911, the time will be recorded. Tell the 911 operator the exact location of the incident, if possible – house numbers, mile markers, cross streets.
Thinking in advance about what facts you will notice can help to train your brain to see those things and to remember them in order to provide them to investigators.
Sometimes the incident turns out not to be an attempted abduction. It is better to report the incident to the police and have the child safe, rather than to avoid calling the police and have the child abducted. If a child abduction occurs, the first few hours are the most important. Immediate reporting and an immediate response can make a big difference.
Two major, high-profile abduction cases in Iowa in 2012 and 2013 illustrate the need to focus on child abductions. A recent study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Chilren (NCMEC) reveals some alarming statistics on attempted abductions, nationwide. Data collected from 9,900+ incidents from January 1, 2005 – December 31, 2014 show attempted abductions happen more often when a child is going to and from school or school-related activities. The data also found that attempted abductions more often involved children between the ages of 10-14 and happen more often to female children, with suspects more commonly using a vehicle.
The NCMEC Study found there were five most utilized lures during these attempted abductions:
- Offering the child a ride
- Offering the child candy
- Asking the child questions
- Offering the child money
- Using an animal
The Iowa Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) houses the Iowa Missing Person Information Clearing house which tracks all missing persons in Iowa. Currently there are 369 missing persons in Iowa; of those, 211 are juveniles, most of those are reported as runaways. To get up-to-date information on missing Iowans, you can visit the Iowa DCI Missing Person Information Clearinghouse Website or the Missing Person Information Clearinghouse Faceboook page.
Governor Terry Branstad highlighted the importance of prevention when it comes to child abductions and the Iowa’s newly formed CART (Child Abduction Response Team) at his weekly press conference Monday. Below is more detailed information on Iowa’s CART.
What should parents tell their children about abduction? It is not necessary to frighten children about the risk of abduction. But there are several things that parents can do to keep children safer:
- When making arrangements to meet, tell the children that Mom or Dad will be there for you, or will tell you who else to look for.
- Do not get in the car with anyone unless Mom or Dad has told you to go with them.
- Develop a “code word” that the child will understand – if Mom or Dad has authorized someone to take the child home, they can share the “code word” known only to the family. If the child does not hear the “code word,” they should run away and scream.
- Walk with other children, not alone.
- Be aware of the common tricks used to lure children (free puppies, parent injured, etc.)
- Speak up if someone makes you feel uncomfortable. Screaming is okay.
- Tell children who to call if they feel they need help. Teach them their own address and phone number.
What else can parents do to protect their children?
- Know the child’s schedule, and when it changes, practice the new routine
- Make online safety a priority.
- Supervising children is expected.
- Do not leave children alone in a car.
- Have current pictures of the child, along with their height and weight, and be prepared to describe their clothing.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) has numerous resources within its Divisions throughout the state to respond to child abductions. The DPS’s Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s (DCI) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force has numerous safety tips by Top 10 Child Safety Tips Card and Child ID Cards for parents to document critical information about their children that can speed up the search process if a child is abducted. And, the DPS’s Iowa State Patrol Public Resource Officers provide educational presentations at schools educating students on things to be aware of when it comes to potential abductions.. The DCI has a
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has several safety educational resources for both parents and children, including a Child ID Kit: