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Wildlife officers participate in joint missing persons training

BY Randy Zellers

ON 10-25-2017


Oct. 25, 2017

Randy Zellers

Assistant Chief of Communications

It may have been only a drill, but the missing person scenario officers with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission participated in last week may one day be the difference between life and death. Wildlife officers joined members of the Arkansas State Police, FBI, the Arkansas Department of Correction, Independence County Sheriff’s Office and 10 other local agencies in a staged child abduction exercise to give a realistic example of what emergency responders should be prepared for should such an event occur in real life.

The members of the exercise are all part of the Child Abduction Response Team, a special interagency group of men and women headed by the Arkansas State Police who respond in the event of a kidnapping.
Capt. Shad Pearce, who helped coordinate the event, says participation in these sorts of drills help officers be far more prepared than reading and workshops. 

“Training is important if you’re going to keep your head together and perform if the real thing should happen,” Pearce said. “A lot of teams do tabletop exercises, but this gives an added sense of realism to learn where your weak points are and fix them.”  

Pearce says in tragic situations, chaos is inevitable, but proper planning through drills of this type enable all agencies involved to know their roles and streamline the process when every second counts.

“If, heaven forbid, we are faced with a real-life case of a child abduction, we want to make sure that everyone responding is on the same page,” Pearce said. “We’ll know who is the lead agency and who is responsible for the many actions that need to take place at nearly the same time.” 

Wildlife officers often are called in during many situations because of their familiarity and preparation for enforcement in rural settings.

“We’re an assisting agency,” Pearce said. “Our primary duty is wildlife enforcement, but when local authorities request help, we are one of many agencies to respond. 

“State police are going to know roads and highways, and many other local police will have critical knowledge specific to their area,” Pearce said. “We are much more in tune with some of the backroads, undeveloped places and woodland areas because that’s where we spend our time. We also have immediate access to boats, ATVs and other equipment to perform in an outdoor setting.”

FBI agents played the roles of many of the contacts in the drill, from the panicked mother of a missing teenage girl, to the many persons of interest developed during the mock investigation. The AGFC and other agencies coordinated to track down the missing teen, using clues developed under a fast-paced timeline to create a true sense of urgency officers would experience in the field. ADC K-9 units were even used during the drill to help locate the young actress playing the victim.

At the end of the day, the group was successful in locating the teen, but Pearce says there’s always room for improvement. 

“A small glitch here can become a major issue in real life, so that’s why it’s so important to conduct training like this,” Pearce said. “Not only do we want to do everything in our power to return an abducted child home safely, but we want to make sure the proper communication takes place and protocols are met to fully prosecute someone who commits such a horrible act.”

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