9-1-1 director brings child abduction training back to Mecosta, Osceola counties

BIG RAPIDS — When 9-1-1 receives calls about missing or abused children, Meceola Central Dispatch Service will now have a staffer who was trained to deal with those cases by the National Center for Missing and Exploited children.

Laurie Smalla, executive director of the dispatch center, recently completed Chief Executive Officer Training Seminar at NCMEC’s headquarters in Alexandria, Va. The course is for law enforcement executives such as Smalla, but also includes police chiefs and sheriffs. Smalla was part of a group of 52 other law enforcement executives who took the class, and is now one of more than 5,000 in the country who have completed the course.

Candidates who are selected to attend have their travel and lodging expenses paid by the NCMEC, which utilizes a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Delinquency.

The seminar, designed to give law enforcement executives a better understanding of missing and sexually abused children, covers the steps needed to implement best practices for call takers, responding officers, investigators and command staff, Smalla said.

“The whole idea behind this is to make (our staffs) understand that domestic disputes or child abductions have more ramifications and impact than on just that family,” she said. “We also have to look at runaways or throwaways as not just inconvineint. Agencies need to look at why these kids are running away and when they come back — and most do — to do a return interview. Ask them what happened, where they went and why are they running away.

“When there’s a missing child, it doesn’t just affect that family. It affects the entire community because it is so emotional.”

Reports of missing children in Mecosta and Osceola counties are consistently low, Smalla said. Most reports come when a small child wanders off and is later found unharmed. However, Smalla said NCMEC showed Michigan as having high rates of child sexual abuse when compared to other states.

For Mecosta and Osceola families who need to report a missing child or an abuse situation, timely reporting is key, Smalla said. Don’t wait several hours before making the report.

Being proactive about securing your child’s surroundings is the best way to make sure an assault or abduction never happens.

“Most of the examples they gave us were that you might see a creepy guy lurking in a parking lot, but no one ever thinks about confronting the person or getting their license plate or pointing that person out to other people,” Smalla said. “Be vigilant.”

Protecting your own child’s safety could mean that you’re helping another child in the long run.

“We have had some attempted stranger abductions with young girls where guys have tried to get them into their vehicle,” Smalla said. “What they told us at the seminar is that these are practice runs. This time they didn’t succeed, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try and succeed next week. You should call 9-1-1, but NCMEC also wants those cases reported to them in case the person tries it this week in Big Rapids but goes to Isabella County next week. They can track that activity.”

For more information about NCMEC, visit missingkids.com.