The Patrol First Responder Checklist below provides information to enable accurate and appropriate responses to reports of missing or abducted children for those officers that are first to arrive on the scene. The preliminary decisions made and actions taken during the initial response have a profound impact on the outcome of the investigation. Patrol first responders are encouraged to familiarize themselves with this checklist prior to any reports of missing or abducted children.
DISCLAIMER: Please download these checklists as a PDF to your local device in order to maximize full capability and security. These checklists are a resource to guide the process of a missing child incident and are not meant to replace or supersede any local, state or federal policies or procedures that might exist for your jurisdiction. These checklists are meant to be a tool. Use of this resource does not entail liability on the part of Fox Valley Technical College or affiliated organizations.
1. If possible and circumstances/policy allow, activate body camera or vehicle-mounted camera when approaching the scene to record vehicles, people, and anything else of note for later investigative review.
If no recording device is available, be prepared to take notes of surroundings and observations.
2. Interview parents/guardians/person who made the initial report. (Privately if possible).
Interview parents/guardians/reporting person (privately if possible). Confirm and build upon the information gathered by the 911 call taker to ensure you gather complete identifying information on the child and suspect (if known/seen) and can better ascertain the nature of the missing/abducted incident.
Resource – Investigative Checklist for First Responders
3. Verbally confirm the child is in fact missing. (This may be covered in prior step)
This step will be pertinent to the later determination of AMBER Alert criteria and should be documented.
4. Determine and document when was the child last seen, where was the child last seen and who saw the child last.
Be sure to centralize all notes in one area to help with briefing other officers / responders as well as use when activating AMBER Alert System. Every detail, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can be useful later.
Note: Be sure to record the time that the place where the missing child was last seen was secured.
5. Identify the circumstances of the missing episode.
Questions to cover include:
- What was the mood or demeanor of child when last seen?
- Was there anything else going on in the area at the time?
- Have there been any recent changes to the child’s behavior?
- Have you noticed the child spending time with any new friends or acquaintances?
6. Interview the individuals who last had contact with the child.
Please note that if this step requires leaving the scene to contact individuals, another officer should be brought in to remain at the location of response.
Questions to cover include:
- What is the child’s custody status?
- Who does the Child typically stay with? (Mother, Father, Grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.)
- Who generally watches over the child during the time when the child was last seen?
- How old is the child?
- Does the child have any special needs or language abilities?
- Who does the child know that lives in the area or nearby where they may have gone looking?
- How far do you believe the child would be able to travel by foot since last they were seen?
- A detailed description of the missing child, abductor (If known), and any vehicles used.
7. Make and document an initial assessment, based on the available information, of the type of incident.
Types of incidents include:
- Nonfamily abduction
- Family abduction
- Lost, injured, or otherwise missing
Within reason it is best to always operate from a worst case scenario perspective. However, to avoid exacerbating panic, it is not recommended to relay this perspective to interviewees, caretakers, or the wider community.
Resource – NISMART Episode Definitions (Refer to Page 3 table)
8. Secure photos/videos of the missing child/abductor, and don’t forget photos that may be available on cell phones.
Seek to obtain permission from caretakers (Even at least verbally and preferably with witnesses). Note: It is always best to seek multiple photos and/or videos that are recent and reflective of the day to day appearance of the missing child. Ideally these will include profile, head-on, smiling, and candid photos or videos.
9. Ensure information regarding the missing child is entered into the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) Missing Person File no more than two hours after receipt of the report and any information about a suspected abductor is entered into the NCIC Wanted Person File.
Accurate entry and update of records on the missing person and associated suspect and vehicle information is critical. Work with your telecommunicator to ensure these resources are familiar and easily accessible to guide entry and update work.
- If the case is believed to be an abduction, ensure telecommunications staff enter or update the missing child record with the CA (Child Abduction) flag.
10. Review sex-offender registries to determine if registered individuals live/work in the area or might otherwise be associated with the case.
Call NCMEC toll-free at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678) to request assistance with this step.
- NCMEC has a Sex Offender Tracking Team (SOTT) available to any law enforcement agencies to serve as an information clearinghouse.
- U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website
11. Evaluate whether the circumstances meet AMBER Alert criteria and/or other immediate community notification protocol if not already activated. Discuss plan activation with supervisor.
Activation of an AMBER Alert can be a critically important tool in engaging the public in efforts to locate an abducted child. Be aware of your state’s AMBER Alert plan’s criteria for issuing an alert.
- If an AMBER Alert is issued, be sure to have telecommunications personnel update the missing child record with the AA (AMBER Alert Flag).
- Find your state’s AMBER Alert Contact Information
The U.S. Department of Justice recommends the following criteria for AMBER Alert programs:
- There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
- The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
- There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
- The abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger.
- The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.
12. Evaluate whether the circumstances warrant requesting the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children®’s (NCMEC) Team Adam. If a Child Abduction Response Team (CART) is in the area, does the child’s case meet their activation criteria?
Similar to activation of the AMBER Alert system, this step should be done in collaboration with supervisory staff (if applicable). For more information and to activate Missing & Exploited Children®’s (NCMEC) Team Adam, call 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678).
13. Continue to keep the communication unit, supervisor, and investigators up to date on all appropriate developing information.
It is best to give regular updates of what is happening to all parties involved in the investigation (Supervisory, communications, and investigative staff) at least twice hourly if possible or as any new pertinent information arises.
14. Identify and separately interview everyone at the scene. Make sure their interview and identifying information is properly recorded.
Vehicle-mounted or body cameras may be helpful with this task if they are available. If not, phone cameras, and/or other available recording devices are suggested. When interviewing, be sure to ask each of the following questions. It is also good to begin questioning with a disclaimer that their support could be critical in gaining information to locate the child.
- May I please have your name, address, and home/business phone numbers?
- What is your relationship to the missing child?
- Do you have any information that you think would be helpful in regards to the current circumstances?
- When is the last time you saw the child?
- What do you think happened to the child?
- Do you have any names, phone numbers, and addresses of relatives or friends of the child and family?
- Did you see anything suspicious or out of the ordinary in the area recently?
15. Obtain and note permission to search the home or building where incident took place even if the premises have been previously searched by family members or others.
It is important to retain permission to ensure the validity of the situation as well as to maintain a cooperative atmosphere with the family. Remain cognizant that family members who appear to be difficult may have different experiences with police and first responders in addition to the psychological panic they could be experiencing.
16. Conduct an immediate, thorough search of the missing child’s home even if the child was reported missing from a different location.
In addition to searching for the child themselves, take note of any other clues that might be helpful in locating the child such as notes, diaries, missing clothes, valuables or food they may have taken with them, etc.
17. Seal/protect scene and area of the child’s home, including the child’s personal articles such as hairbrush, diary, photos, and items with the child’s fingerprints/ footprints/teeth impressions, so evidence is not destroyed during or after the initial search and to help ensure items that could help in the search for and/ or to identify the child are preserved. Determine if any of the child’s personal items are missing. If possible, photograph/take videos of these areas.
Personal effects are valuable to a missing person’s investigation but also important to the family and caretakers of a child. Be sure to explain to caretakers/parents the importance of documenting and/or gathering these things.
18. Evaluate the contents and appearance of the child’s room/residence.
It is important to take particular note of anything that appears out of place or like it does not belong in a child’s room. Ensure you do not touch or disturb in any way potential items or areas of evidence. Document with written notes and capture photos if possible.
19. Inquire if the child has access to the internet and evaluate its role. Do not overlook activity on social media accounts or other online apps and platforms.
Take particular note of photos and conversations had on social media. However, be mindful of parent wishes in order to maintain a solid working relationship with the family.
20. Ascertain if the child has a cell phone or other electronic communication device, and work with supervisory personnel regarding phone/device searches and to pursue records of use.
Keep in mind that pictures and notes may have been left on personal cell phones especially by older missing children.
21. Extend search to surrounding areas and vehicles, including those that are abandoned, and other places of concealment such as abandoned appliances, pools, wells, sheds, or other areas that a young person would be curious to explore.
- Places that are attractive for young people to explore are particularly important to search in the case of younger missing children.
- If applicable, make note to repeat a neighborhood canvass the following day for the same timeframe of the abduction, starting 30 minutes before the time of the abduction.
22. Treat all areas of interest or regular visits by the missing child as potential crime scenes.
Wherever possible, assign officers to search and canvass areas the child frequents or has indicated interest in, based upon interview information received.
23. If applicable determine if surveillance or security cameras in the vicinity may have captured relevant information. This information may be used to help locate the child and/or corroborate or refute witness statements.
- Contact local business in the area to see if any video documentation exists.
- Communicate any updates to command post or other staff involved in the case.
24. Interview other family members, friends/associates of the child, and friends.
Continue to interview other family members, friend and/or associates of the missing child.
- When was the last time each person saw the child?
- What they think happened to the child.
- Did the child mention being approached by anyone?
- During the investigation, give special attention to individuals who recently moved into or away from the area.
- When possible, conduct interviews separately to be able to compare the multiple accounts.
25. Ensure NCIC entries for the incident are being updated as new information is obtained from interviews. Additional identifying information, and persons with information (PWI) should be added to the missing child record.
Work with communications to update NCIC records in the case with new information as it is obtained.
- Timely update of NCIC with additional descriptive information on the child, suspect and/or vehicle involved, along with Persons with Information (PWI) records, is critical to helping officers in the field make identifications when coming into contact with persons and property.
- Refer to the NCIC Quick Reference Guide for information on updating and modifying entries.
26. Prepare flyer/bulletin with the child/abductor’s photo and descriptive information. Distribute in appropriate geographic regions.
Call NCMEC toll free at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678) for assistance with this step.
- With technology changing the quickest and most effective way to get the information out to the community could be through means of social media and online networking websites when
- Public participation is a key component in the success of the AMBER Alert and other community notification protocols. The public becomes the eyes and ears of law enforcement in the search for the child. To that end, law enforcement must be diligent in ensuring that photos and videos of the child are widely distributed to and viewed by as many people as possible.
- Timing is critical when reporting that a child is missing. In 43 percent of the cases in which a child was killed, more than 2 hours passed between the time the victim was known to be missing and the time a report was made to law enforcement. In 76 percent of those cases, the victims were dead within 3 hours of the abduction making it crucial to get the word out to as many people as possible as soon as possible.
- Coordinate with other agencies as applicable and needed.
27. Prepare reports/make all required notifications.
- Reports should include everything, not just events seeming to have a direct bearing on the case.
- Notifications should go to all officers, other departments and agencies, to ensure all investigative networks are supplied with accurate details.
- Centralize all reports into one location for ease of use