This is how police handle cases involving missing children

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The frightened fifth grader sat on the couch in her mother’s northwest townhouse apartment. The mom doesn’t speak English so the girl translated my questions.

The child was the subject of a massive IMPD response until well after dark Wednesday night, when her mom reported her daughter didn’t come home from school.

The 10-year-old told me she got off the school bus a few blocks from her house and wandered a strip mall near 71st Street and Michigan Road before she was found by police.

Meanwhile, less than a mile away outside of her mother’s apartment, the parking lot was full of police cars with flashing lights and officers engaged in the search for the girl.

“State statute dictates we can take a case immediately, there’s no waiting period in Indiana,” said IMPD Sgt. Paul Scott. “In this unit we put assets on a case right away. Particularly if we feel someone’s been abducted or there’s a kidnapping that actually occurred. So we’re putting all of the assets that we have on that right away and so that increases the probability of success in the cases.”

Scott said that every year IMPD takes between 3,800 and 5,000 missing persons reports. About 80% of those cases are resolved without a criminal investigation. About 90% of the runaways are found. About 95% of the non-custodial parent abductions are found. Scott said nationally there are about 200 stranger abductions of children every year though there are likely hundreds of attempted abductions that fail.

“If this is a situation, obviously if it’s a child, you’re gonna know that they don’t have the ability to get in a car and drive off, so, if the child is missing, what is the basis for that? Is there a domestic issue between you and an ex-spouse? If not then right away we need to call on that,” said Scott.

“Unfortunately a lot of parents will wait several hours and if this is a stranger abduction and somebody’s broken into your house and taken your child, we only have a short period of time, a short window, to be able to get to the scene and really make an impact. So, I would caution parents with younger children, if your child ends up missing, call the police right away and at least get them in the system and get a detective notified.”

Wednesday afternoon, the girl’s mother notified police after her daughter failed to return home from school and by 7:30 p.m., IMPD issued a public call for help.

Within three hours, the girl was returned home.

Scott lists the type of information responding officers and detectives will need to know if a child is reported missing.

“Where was the individual last seen? The last point of contact is an important concept for us. Timeline of disappearance. Has that residence been searched to assure that if it's like a child, the child is not hiding in the residence. Then we need to get all the identifiers of the individual. Height. Weight. Hair color so we can enter them in our system.”

Scott said IMPD is the lead organizing agency for a new program called CART: Child Abduction Response Team. CART partners will respond statewide, if necessary, to a missing child report and bring resources from each agency, including detectives, search dogs, drones, law enforcement patrols and dive teams, to a search that may extend across county lines. Currently 26 agencies have been invited to participate in the system which will be in full operation later this year.

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