Fort Worth Police Response:
In the interest of providing uniform information to the public and the media regarding the kidnapping incident in May of this year in the Ryan Place Neighborhood, the following information is being provided. These responses are a follow up to inquiries received in a Ryan Place town hall meeting that occurred shortly after the original call for service.
The notification system, known as Amber Alert, is a tiered system that includes a Regional, State, and National (NCMEC – National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) classification, each with differing and unique standards. The regional notification is sent to designated radio and communications stations which activates the Emergency Alert System and broadcasts across communication airwaves. This is done even if a full Amber Alert is not initiated. The Regional notification alone is not sufficient to trigger a full Amber Alert. The decision to initiate the full Amber Alert (cell phones, road signs, etc.) is determined at the State level and vetted through NCMEC. This decision is not made by the FWPD and is normally based on known credible information (such as license plates, unique identifiers, etc.). This notification was made properly during this incident. A full scale Amber Alert will not typically be broadcast with extremely limited or very broad descriptors (i.e. gray 4-door car). The Fort Worth Police Department has since worked with regional AMBER alert partners to include an e-mail as well as a fax component to ensure information is received in a timely and useable format to improve the quality of information shared.
Ryan Place Follow-Up:
What FWPD policies have changed to address the known failures of the FWPD’s Amber Alert process?
The FWPD Regional notification policy was amended to include email notifications along with facsimile (fax) notifications. The original policy only allowed for fax notification due to limitations of the receiving parties (radio stations). On the night of the abduction, technical issues in the Command Post prevented the fax notification from happening. As it was explained at the town hall meeting, the FWPD recognized the need for a backup solution . Within 24 hours the Radio Stations added an email address at the request of the FWPD. The stations also recognized that their notification process was outdated and very limiting.
Moving forward we will make the Regional notification via Fax and Email, followed up immediately by a direct phone call verifying they have received the notification as well as clarifying the content.
The State notification is made by submitting a form (questionnaire) via email. This notification was made in a timely manner during the Salem abduction. We had very little information at the start. A full scale Alert was set to go out at 06:00 a.m. the following morning, even with limited information. Thankfully, this was not needed.
All notifications are initiated by detectives in the field and submitted to our Communications Center, who will then forward to the appropriate entity and follow up with a phone call to ensure receipt.
Previously, only Missing Persons Detectives had the capability to submit Amber information. Now, all Major Case Detectives, as well as Supervisors, have the ability to send this information from their assigned laptops.
How has FWPD modified its social media policy so that officers on the scene are able to disseminate information during an emergency more effectively?
Although our PIO team was there quickly in this incident, our new plan will notify them immediately when there is a confirmed abduction. It is of the utmost importance to disseminate only credible and complete information that has been vetted. To publish incomplete or inaccurate information only proves to exacerbate our issues and potentially tie up investigators and citizen resources chasing false or unrelated leads.
What barriers prevent FWPD from quickly alerting and engaging with neighborhood leaders during emergencies?
As mentioned above, and at the town hall meeting, it is a disservice to the investigation and ultimately a successful conclusion, to immediately forward information that has not been scrutinized for accuracy. The FWPD is very proud of the relationship we have developed with the neighborhoods, leaders, and citizens and we welcome their involvement and assistance. In a crisis situation such as this, information is received at a hectic pace. Once we are certain the information is authentic, there is an immense value in public dissemination.
In our plan for a response team, there will be a designated individual who will address directly involved neighborhoods and citizen volunteers. This will be coordinated with other individuals on the team responsible for disseminating information to the public at large.
Another barrier is the ease at which information can be forwarded on social media through a “friends” network. Information provided outside the official FWPD channel, which is often inaccurate, false, or misleading, can quickly lead to an unnecessary expansion of the search or the investigation, again limiting resources that can be utilized in a more effective way. We will continuously push information out to the public via Facebook and Twitter.
What resources are unavailable to FWPD and/or what practices are not able to be implemented or modified due to budget constraints?
During this incident, the FBI CARD (Child Abduction Rapid Deployment) team was activated and in route should it have become necessary. The FBI offered numerous resources to supplement the FWPD. The FWPD has used this incident to strengthen our relationship with partner agencies including the FBI. In July, we attended Command Level training at the NCMEC in Virginia. In addition, we are currently updating our FWPD Response team in partnership with the FBI.
In the future, if we have a confirmed abduction, an alert notification will be sent by our Communications Division to all personnel appointed to our FWPD Missing and Abducted Child Response Team. All members will respond immediately to the scene and take charge of the duties assigned to their particular area of expertise. All efforts will be coordinated through a predetermined chain of command that will ensure we are operating as planned.
Budget constraints do have an impact on internal equipment needs. We currently have an aging fleet of Mobile Command Posts that are in need of replacement and this is in process. While this was an obstacle, it did not prevent FWPD from completing the mission at hand.
Why has the Citizen Review Board not been created?
The Citizen Review Board was one of the recommendations from the Race and Culture Task Force. They presented their recommendations to City Council in December 2018. The City Manager has recommended the funding of a Police Monitor in the FY20 budget. If the position is funded, the city hopes to have someone in the position at the beginning of the fiscal year. Once that person is in place, he/she will work with staff and the City Council to determine the next steps for the Citizen Review Board. Staff provides regular updates to City Council on all of the recommendations from the task force. Regular updates on this item will be a part of that update.