REALTORS® are a new and extremely valuable asset in the search for abducted children, according to Winnipeg Police Services Chief Keith McCaskill.
With the participation of the WinnipegREALTORS® membership, 1,000 sets of extra eyes will be available in the event a child under 18 goes missing and an Amber Alert is issued, he said.
“The more eyes and ears we have out there, the more success we can have,” added McCaskill.
“Our recent adoption of the sophisticated messaging technology Touchbase had made it possible for WinnipegREALTORS® to volunteer its 1,000-plus members to assist Winnipeg Police Service as a new partner in the Manitoba Amber Alert network,” said WinnipegREALTORS® president Deborah Goodfellow, during a press conference last week announcing the association’s participation.
“We’re pleased to do our part in one of the most pressing situations possible — finding a missing child,” she added.
“The more people we have to get a message out as quickly as possible, the more success we will have,” said McCaskill.
In other jurisdictions, REALTORS® have already proven their worth as an extra set of eyes. In 2000, an 11-year-old runaway boy was sighted by a B.C. REALTOR® after checking a text-message alert issued by Fraser Valley RCMP. Upon checking the message, the REALTOR® glanced out the window, saw the boy and called 911. The youngster was reunited with his relieved parents.
In 2006, a REALTOR® in Langley, B.C., was instrumental in assisting in finding a missing teenager.
“Technically, few organizations are set up to contact a large group of individuals in the event of an emergency,” said Alain Brunel, vice-president of Touchbase Real Estate. “The WinnipegREALTORS® SMS messaging system is a primary communication tool proven to be very effective in alerting all Touchbase users.”
A volunteer group headed by Don Cook, the chair of the WinnipegREALTORS® civic and legislative committee, will be the first notified of an Amber Alert from Winnipeg Police Service. Once the volunteers are notified, a group message is sent out to all REALTORS® via Touchbase.
The text-message will contain all neccessary information needed to help locate the child as well as a link to the Child Find Manitoba website where photos and more information can be viewed.
“REALTORS® by the very nature of their occupation are mobile and predisposed to action, so we can be instrumental in helping with a missing child incident,” said Cook.
Chief McCaskill said it is extremely important to get information out as quickly as possible “out on the street” in the event of a child abduction.
“You have to jump on it in a certain period of time,” he added. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of hours” to find the abducted child before any harm can be done.
“In a missing child case, especially in an Amber Alert situation when the child may be at imminent risk, every second counts,” said Christy Dzikoweitz, the director of Missing Children’s Services at Child Find Manitoba.
“It’s very important to expand the way we fight crime,” said McCaskill. “In order for the Winnipeg Police Service to meet its public safety objectives, it is incumbent on us to reach out to the community and work with partners such as REALTORS®. It’s all about partnering with people and organizations to make our city safer and a better place to live.”
An Amber Alert is only issued by police agancies and is only used for the most serious time-critical cases, according to Child Find Manitoba. An Amber Alert is not used for runaways or parental abductions except in life-threatening situations.
WinnipegREALTORS® already co-operates with Winnipeg Police Service in the Realty Watch/Home Security program. In addition, the association works with police to help identify grow-ops.
Amber Alert is named after Amber Hageman, a nine-year-old Dallas-Forth Worth, Texas, youth who was abducted in 1996 while riding a bicycle near her grandmother’s home in Arlington. A man living nearby told police he heard screaming and saw the youth dragged into a pick-up truck. Four days later, she was found murdered.
After this incident, Dallas-Forth Worth broadcasters adopted the suggestion of a Dallas man that an alert be sent out in similar situations in order to solicit the public’s help in finding an abducted child. Originally called the Dallas Amber Plan, it evolved into the nation-wide America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, or Amber Alert. The U.S. government estimates that 240 abducted children have been recovered due at least in part to Amber Alerts.
The Amber Alert program was established in Manitoba in June 2003. Within Manitoba, WinnipegREALTORS® is now joining local broadcasters as part of the network sending out Amber Alerts in the event of a child abduction.
To date in Manitoba, no missing child incident has met the criteria needed to issue an Amber Alert. Across Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec also have Amber Alert programs. As of 2008, 29 Amber Alerts have been issued in these provinces.
Cook said the use of Touchbase technology will not be limited to the Amber Alert program. “As has happened with other real estate boards and associations across Canada (such as in B.C.),” he added, “we believe it will be possible to do other alerts where our network could be of great assistance to the Winnipeg Police Service and Child Find Manitoba.”