The scenario is a nightmare for parents. Their child goes missing and the worst thoughts creep into their heads. Typically, their only recourse is the police. But Brian H. Reich, CPP, an investigator for the Computer Crimes Unit of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey, believes private security has a role to play in recovering that child safe and sound. A presenter at ASIS 2009, Brian, who worked in specialized units, such as Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Squad during his police career, talked with Security Management about how private security can be a critical force multiplier in the search for missing kids.
A frequent commentator for cable news networks when people go missing, Brian was also the former deputy chief of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.
What does private security even have to do with missing and abducted children?
That is the crux of why I brought this to the attention of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). That’s what most law enforcement and private security officers, not just in the country, but in the world think. I want to engage both sectors in a paradigm shift about that very question.
Why is it even necessary? I thought it would be outside their purview.
There are about 1.3 million children that go missing every year. Either they are a victim of family abductions, stranger abductions, runaways, throwaways, or otherwise listed as missing. Out of those 1.3 million, about 800,000 are actually reported. Let me give you some more numbers: there is one family abduction every three minutes. Stranger abductions—you know the boogey man that took your kid—there are about 58,000 of those every year. Estimates say about 100 to 150 children are murdered every year.
If 80 percent of the resources of this country are protected by private security, how do we protect children adequately if we’re only training the folks that protect 20 percent of the resources? We talk about terrorism and what is the big thing in counter terrorism we’re trying to do? Collaboration, because, again, 80 percent of resources are protected by private security. The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize and just because it’s not al Qaeda, isn’t the abduction and murder of children an act of terror?
So, therefore, shouldn’t we apply the same principles of collaboration, training, preparedness, and awareness in both the public and the private sector, just like we do in any other major act of terrorism? If you think about it, if we had 100 acts of terrorism, like we have child murders every year, how aggressive would we be acting as far as directing our resources?
This is a problem.
Let me play devil’s advocate with that, terrorism makes people feel like it could happen to anyone, whereas I don’t feel like most parents feel like their child could get abducted at any time.
Well most people feel like most threats can’t happen to them. Most people feel like they can’t become a victim of burglary. They can’t become a victim of a mugging or terrorism or child abduction. Most people who are not in the security field or in the law enforcement field feel that way. You ever watch on the news and you see a crime victim and they interview a neighbor. They said, “I can’t believe in this community.”
So not many people think it could happen to them. But the statistics show that it can. So why do we need to collaborate? Let’s just take malls for example. I recently worked on a case where a 16-year-old child went missing. The mother woke up and her daughter was gone. Was she abducted? No, she ran away. Can a runaway then become an abduction? Sure. A 14- or 15-year-old meets someone they think is a 20-year-old male and turns out to be a guy that wants to rape and kill them, so she voluntarily goes, meets at a mall, and then is held against her will, raped, or killed, or both. So shouldn’t we be collaborating with mall security and mall employees so they are alert for suspicious behavior and have a liaison, a mechanism in place? It would be very, very similar to what school resource officers do. When the local police have a problem with kids, they go to the school resource officers because those officers are embedded in the schools where the kids are. They hear the conversations, they see who hangs out, they notice the cliques. Well our mall employees, or anyplace our kids congregate like Starbucks, they’re going to have that same information. “Hey Mr. Mall, Mr. Starbucks, etc., have you seen this kid? You know anything about this missing kid?”
Again, this applies to anywhere kids are. Your cable TV repairman, your phone repairman. We spoke about a family abduction every three minutes. They’re going into people’s homes, so I want them to be aware when they go into somebody’s home if anything seems off, does anything seem suspicious. If they do see something suspicious or hear something, what do they do with that information? Is there a mechanism in their company to up-channel that?
How has technology evolved to help you to create such collaborative networks? How technologically advanced are they?
Let’s say there are companies that have facial recognition cameras. The NCMEC or law enforcement could possibly upload pictures of photographs of missing and abducted children and those facial recognition cameras could possibly send an alert to their loss prevention that that missing child was in their location. So that’s one way to share technology. Another would be law enforcement actually having the ability, via servers, to view the cameras of these places, inside theme parks and zoos and other large venues like malls, shopping centers, and office parks.
Well let me play devil’s advocate again, do we want to give the government that much power?
Well, yeah, if you think about it, we’re not talking about inside people’s homes. You’re talking about having a camera in public places, places that we’re going to walk through anyway. We’re just facilitating that the government should be able to share this information. And that’s only one small part of it. But it’s all about sharing of information. I don’t have any expectation of privacy when I’m walking in the mall with my kids. I know everyone is looking at me and everyone is watching me, that there are cameras on me.
One of the most important things, like in any security program, is personnel training. Training them to be aware, training them to know what to do, training them to have criteria, rather than waiting 45 minutes to an hour to call the police or not call the police at all. Having them feel comfortable being able to recognize that a novel event is occurring. Traditionally, people in general treat novel events as routine emergencies.
Explain that. What do you mean?
For example, many places get a lot of missing children reports. To me, I have a five- and a three-year-old, that’s an emergency. But to that private sector security person, he may deal with 20 of those in a weekend. So it’s a routine emergency for them. So what’s the difference between the hundreds of missing children reports in a large venue where kids are located in 15 minutes because they wandered off and a novel event? And what’s the criteria that they should use to parse those out? You can’t call the police every single time. They need to train with their local law enforcement, with their child abduction response teams, so they can come up with criteria that works for them.
Where are you guys in this process of private-public collaboration?
We’ve met with Peter Bellmio, who is the senior policy director at the NCMEC and with a member of the ASIS Education department. They have agreed to incorporate some content from NCMEC into ASIS-sponsored training.
What types of technology do you want to leverage into these collaborations?
At first, it’s not so much technology. That will be further down the road. The first initiative is to get the dialogue going, create the paradigm shift, start the process of a dialogue and through that, these other things will spin off.
Do you expect a lot of buy-in from the private sector?
I think we’re going to get tremendous amount of buy-in. In fact, we already have. ASIS International’s Retail Loss Prevention Council is onboard as well as its Global Terrorism, Political Instability and International Crime Council. So we’ve had tremendous amount of buy-in from different councils, from members of the private and public sectors, as well as the NCMEC, which is a standard-bearer for all of us.
When this is up and running, what do you want to see happen in a scenario when a child goes missing?
I’d like to see a memorandum of understanding eventually between ASIS International and NEMEC laying out what our goals are and start working the security industry towards those goals. I’d also like to see training incorporated. When we measure risk, when we talk about criticality, probability, enterprise security risk management, all the things we talk about as CPPs. I want to weave the threat of missing and abducted children events into that, and that we consider this one of the things when we measure risk. When you think about it, it’s not only risk to life and so forth, but it effects the bottom line of a company.
But how does it affect a company’s bottom line?
Premises liability. What’s the difference between me picking up my five-year-old from walking her out of an establishment kicking and screaming and someone abducting her in front of a company’s employee? What are they supposed to do? How do they handle this? What are the liabilities if that was an abduction and it happened in front of their employees? You know there’s going to be a lawsuit. Sometimes we can’t prevent tragedy, but how does a company show they tried? Unfortunately, these things still happen but here’s what we did, here’s our policies. In the absence of any policy or any training, they could be subject to liability and there’s many cases where companies have been liable for abductions that became homicides and sexual assaults. That effects the bottom line in real dollars and also in branding. So in real dollars and perceived dollars, it can have both a positive and negative effect depending on their involvement.