DCSO looks into new system to track abducted children | RecordCourier.com
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DCSO looks into new system to track abducted children

by Sharon Carter

If the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department had a TRAK system, parents like Victoria Robinson would have more hope of recovering their children sooner.

Last September, Robinson came home from work to discover her husband, Jesse Dennis Robinson, had moved out of the family’s Johnson Lane home, taking his possessions and the couple’s two young sons. The children’s clothes, toys and medical records, even the family dogs, were gone.

With a Technology to Recover Abducted Kids (TRAK) digital computer system, sheriff’s officers could send high-quality color, photo-scanned images of Robinson’s sons over telephone lines to areas her husband would likely have taken the boys.

“Somebody, somewhere has seen something,” is almost an article of faith for Lt. Steve Lowe of the Daly City, Calif. Police Department.

“We just have to find that someone,” Lowe said Wednesday when he met with more than a dozen western Nevada and Sierra-area peace officers at the Douglas County Law Enforcement Center in Minden to demonstrate the TRAK system.

“In the overwhelming majority of parental abductions, the kids end up in schools somewhere,” Lowe said. “TRAK in schools or at local law enforcement agencies would eliminate the problem almost completely. There’d simply be no place to hide.”

Lowe added that the systems, which are being used in 12 states, are also proving themselves to be valuable law enforcement tools.

“The phone lines are faster than the bad guys,” he said.

Lowe, along with software engineer Bob Asquith of the non-profit Social Tech Corp., which developed the TRAK system, and Terry Hanebeck of Sparks, a TRAK representative, demonstrated it to Sheriff Ron Pierini and representatives from the Churchill and Lyon county sheriff’s departments, the Churchill and Lyon county tribal police, the Washoe Tribe’s police department, and officers from the Mono County, Calif. Sheriff’s Office.

With roughly 20 minutes of training, officers could rapidly scan photographs and generate posters, bulletins and even photo lineups for photo-quality digital transmission to other law enforcement agencies.

The system began with a $1 million grant from the David Packard Foundation (the Packard of Hewlett-Packard), and donations from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Polly Klaas Foundation to Social Tech of Burlingame, Calif., to put the system together.

The idea was to combine complicated Adobe Photoshop, filemaking and publishing programs and streamline the computer processing so even computer phobes could use it.

HP managers and the other high tech companies’ management and employees, angered over the abduction and subsequent murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas in October 1993, recognized modern computer technology could help foil the bad guys if it was properly integrated into police investigations.

In particular, they recognized the bitter irony that a police officer had helped Klaas’s murderer extricate his vehicle from a ditch – perhaps while Klaas was still a prisoner.

And because the officer did not know the kidnapping had occurred in a neighboring jurisdiction, he had no legal cause to run a check of the man’s record and so did not discover the man was a sex offender and thus a possible suspect in the crime.

“It’s about getting information out quickly,” Lowe said. “The system has proven it saves time and man hours. It helps solve cases and it saves lives.”

The system can communicate with other TRAK systems and regular facsimile machines. It cannot, as yet, talk to other personal computer systems, though Bob Asquith said that day may come in five to eight years.

For mass alerts, the system uses a service from AT&T which can forward the information to hundreds of destinations in a matter of minutes.

It costs about $8,000 per location to set up a TRAK system. And in this age of shrinking budgets, purchasing even a few units can seem an insurmountable expense for most police departments.

But, Lowe said, most of the nearly 200 TRAK systems currently in use, including 10 in Washoe County, have been donated.

Often the systems are purchased through community fund-raising efforts, donated by individual benefactors or are adopted by service clubs as annual projects. The units also qualify for block grant funding and are a legitimate use for drug forfeiture funds.

Sheriff Ron Pierini believes that by implementing TRAK programs in Minden and at the Lake Tahoe Sheriff’s Substation, the county would save money in man hours in the long run.

In Nevada, United Way is the fiscal agent for the program and donations to charity or the sheriff’s department can be earmarked for the Douglas County TRAK program.

Pierini said he would submit the proper paperwork to be included on the TRAK waiting list for donors.

“We, as a community, should do everything we can do to get this on line,” Pierini said. “I’m impressed. It’s fast and it’ll save lives.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about TRAK may call 800-PC 4 TRAK or access its website at: http://www.trak.org.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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