FROM THE NET WORKS NEWSLETTER, SPRING 2004, VOL. 20, NO. 2
Chief Charles Burge of the Jackson, Alabama, Police Department realized he needed to review his agency’s missing persons policy when he heard an officer had told someone they needed to wait 24 hours before reporting a missing person.
“That wasn’t our policy. He just made a big mistake. I wanted to make sure we had everybody on the same page. I didn’t want an officer telling someone they had to wait 24 hours before they could report a 15 year-old child missing.”
Chief Burge turned to IACP Net and its database of over 6,000 policies from other agencies.
“One problem of our old policy was that it didn’t have definitions for juvenile missing persons, juvenile runaways and at-risk persons.”
A juvenile missing person, Chief Burge explained, is a person under the age of 18 who is missing and is not classified as a runaway. A juvenile runaway is a person under the age of 18 who is missing and is also known to have a history of running away. An at-risk person is a person who is physically or mentally challenged and poses a risk to himself or others.
“I found a lot of information on IACP Net. We developed a procedure based on the age of the missing person. If a child under age 13 has been reported missing, the officer should contact the supervisor who will arrange for additional assistance, searching and follow-up. If the juvenile is not located within two hours or prior to nightfall, we take additional steps. If the child is under seven and is not located within 20 minutes of the officer arriving on the scene, the officer will immediately contact the supervisor and our recovery steps will be more in-depth.”
Even though Jackson is a small community (population 6,000), the department receives missing person reports a couple of times a month. “We have five schools, and we often have children who don’t get on the school bus or get off at the wrong stop. We also have problems with some older people who wander off occasionally. Our new policy has clarified some issues for the officers. It has also covered our liability.”
The agency is also in the process of revising its pursuit policy. Once again, the chief’s first step is to research the policies of other departments on IACP Net.
“We’re going to greatly curtail pursuits. A lot of departments are going that way. It’s something that’s getting to be a big liability issue.”
As Chief Burge recalls, the consequences of unnecessary pursuits were illustrated about a year ago in a community located in northern Alabama. A local discount chain reported to police that $100 worth of CDs had been stolen. Police went to the scene, and a chase ensued as the suspects were leaving the store’s parking lot. After the pursuit crossed the state line into Mississippi, the fleeing vehicle broadsided a car in an intersection, tragically killing three. Family members of the victims sued both the discount chain and the police department.
Chief Burge is determined to prevent his department from making similar mistakes. “It was over CDs–and we’ve had pursuits that were just as dumb. We’ve just been lucky they didn’t turn out that way.”
In conjunction with revamping their pursuit policy, the agency is developing a policy on the use of the Spike Barrier System to stop fleeing vehicles.
“IACP Net is worth the money,” said Chief Burge. “It provides detailed, well-thought-out information. It’s simple to use. By entering keywords you can bring up policies and all kinds of other law enforcement information. I would encourage other agencies to subscribe. As a matter of fact, I often talk with other chiefs about joining.”
[Editor’s Note: Chief Burge has retired from the Jackson Police Department. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.]