By Amy Wenk

amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

The Sandy Springs Police Department is using national resources to locate missing children in the city and, by sharing the knowledge, throughout metro Atlanta.

On June 25, Police Chief Terry Sult invited some 16 police agencies from counties including DeKalb, Gwinnett and Clayton, as well as six Sandy Springs officers, to attend a training session for a free alert program that helps recover missing children. The event at the Sheraton Hotel on Hammond Drive drew about 50 people.

Although it is available across the country, not all jurisdictions are aware of the program, which is sponsored by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based nonprofit group A Child Is Missing (www.achildismissing.org).

“I think it’s wonderful that the chief was proactive in getting on board with this program right away,” said Claudia Corrigan, vice president and national expansion director for A Child Is Missing. “The very good part about … this is we share the knowledge of the program with other agencies in their area. There were many (June 25) that did not belong to the program and didn’t even know about it.

“It’s a free program. It’s there. It’s waiting, but word of mouth usually helps to bring people on board. We try to do as much training as we can, but with budget constraints, we can only do so many.”

Thanks to Sandy Springs Sgt. Glenn Kalish, who heard about the program and organized the training, more police agencies will now use the alert system.

“We wanted it for ourselves, and we wanted to put it out there for the other law enforcement agencies to have that type of training as well,” said Kalish, noting that the six Sandy Springs officers who attended will soon train patrol officers, the city’s first responders.

A Child Is Missing’s alert program operates on the basis that time is crucial in recovering missing children. One child goes missing every 40 seconds in the United States.

The program requires no additional personnel, equipment or maintenance from local law enforcement. Officers need only make a phone call to activate the rapid response system, which also sends alerts for elderly people who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia, disabled people, and college students missing from campus.

After a missing person is reported, police contact A Child Is Missing, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The officer provides information about the lost person, including physical and clothing descriptions, as well as the time and place last seen. The nonprofit then records an alert message using the information, which is transmitted through phone lines to the area where the person was last seen.

“They use satellite technology to look at an area and basically do a radius based upon last time seen, age of the person, their physical and mental capabilities to try to give law enforcement a working area,” said Kalish, adding that A Child Is Missing is not restrained by jurisdictional boundaries, so alert calls can cross city, county and state lines. “That is also the same area they would use for these phone messages.”

The organization, which receives funds from the U.S. Department of Justice, can place up to 1,000 calls in 60 seconds. Ninety-eight percent of residents or business owners who answer listen to the message.

Call recipients are asked to phone police if they are aware of the child’s whereabouts.

“The more eyes we have looking for somebody that’s endangered … the faster we can get people back to safety,” Kalish said.

In severe risk cases such as abduction, the alert message can be used in tandem with the Amber Alert system, which broadcasts missing-person notices across television screens, on electronic highway signs and elsewhere.

Since its inception in 1997, A Child Is Missing has helped recover 545 missing people, including at least 20 in Georgia.

For instance, on the morning of Feb. 18, a 14-year-old boy went missing from Bear Cave Trail in Woodstock. By that afternoon, A Child Is Missing placed more than 3,500 alert calls to the surrounding area. The teenager was found that day after a resident who received an alert call spotted the boy in a department store 3½ miles from where he was last seen.

As in that incident, many cases are resolved the same day. The average recovery time is 90 minutes from the time the alert calls begin.

Alert calls are made only to listed land lines. People can enter their unlisted and cellphone numbers at www.achildismissing.org to receive alerts as well.