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Chiefs' drill to aid community response to child abduction

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The community might be better prepared to confront a parent's worst nightmare following a May 20 drill prepared by regional police chiefs.

The Region IV Chiefs of Police are coordinating the drill, which will simulate the abduction of a child and a community's response to the incident, said Morris Chief of Police Jim Beauregard.

The drill will incorporate law enforcement, many community resources, and residents play-acting various roles in an attempt to put responders into a realistic situation in the aftermath of the mock abduction.

"Being prepared is paramount," Beauregard said. "We know that a large percentage of (children abducted by strangers) are killed in the first three or four hours. You don't have days or even hours to think about what you're going to do."

The Region IV encompasses an area stretching from Moorhead to Swift County, and numerous law enforcement personnel will be involved in the drill. One goal will be to create a handbook for the agencies that instructs them about how to coordinate a response to an abduction: Establishing a chain of command, who to call in to help, and how to most effectively direct their efforts, Beauregard said.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota's point organization for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, will conduct a two-hour training session from 10 a.m. to noon. The drill runs from 1 4 p.m., followed by a 30-minute debriefing.

The limited time frame will be the most critical factor. Most child abductions occur when a family member takes a child, often related to a custody dispute. But stranger abductions do happen, and the results usually aren't positive after several hours, Beauregard said.

The large-scale response needed in such a situation isn't one that a community the size of Morris can handle alone, he said.

The Region IV law enforcement officials conducted a regional response drill in 2000, but retirements and turnover mean that many people now working in the region haven't worked together under these circumstances. In the last year, Region IV officials worked through plans, and "now we're at the point where we need to hold a mock drill to get up to speed," Beauregard said.

A checklist has been established to identify numerous community resources that can be tapped to assist, and having that information readily available can mean the difference between a successful and a sad ending to a response, Beauregard said.

The drill is being held in conjunction with the 2008 Take 25 Campaign, which encourages parents to take 25 minutes to review child safety issues, and to bring to light ways communities can help prevent or respond to child abduction, he said.