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Teamwork urged in solving kidnappings

Local police and federal agents who investigate kidnapping cases were encouraged Thursday to work together and not let bureaucratic red tape slow them down.

That was part of the message during the opening comments of the Greater Salt Lake Valley Metropolitan Area Kidnapping Summit being held in Salt Lake City. The two-day conference, believed to be the first of its kind in Utah, was scheduled to end today.

Utah and Idaho have arguably had the nation's two most high-profile kidnapping cases in recent years: Elizabeth Smart and Shasta Groene.

Smart was 14 when she was kidnapped from her bedroom in June 2002. After being held in the mountains above the University of Utah, then being taken to southern California before being brought back to Utah by her alleged abductor, Smart was found alive nine months later.

Shasta Groene, 8, was kidnapped from her Idaho home in May after her alleged abductor killed her mother, her mother's boyfriend and 13-year-old brother. Her 9-year-old brother was also kidnapped and eventually killed. Shasta was spotted in a Denny's near Coeur d'Alene six weeks later and rescued.

Some officers from Idaho who assisted in the Groene case were present at Thursday's summit.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Tim Fuhrman, while not criticizing the way any recent kidnapping case has been handled, said in every investigation there are always lessons that can be learned and things that can be improved.

"We never do things perfectly," he said. "But we want to minimize mistakes and not make significant mistakes."

Part of reducing those mistakes included more planning and training, Fuhrman said.

"When plans aren't in place or executed . . . things don't go exactly they way they should," he said.

One thing he encouraged all the local and federal agents who were at the conference Thursday to do was to get to know each other.

"We all bring things to the table from each of our jurisdictions," he said.

He said investigators should just worry about helping each other and let their administrators work out jurisdictional issues later.

"I don't think anyone cares who gets credit when there's a missing child," Fuhrman said.

Salt Lake County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Milan Buhler said more than ever before, different departments are relying on each other for help in solving cases and they need to not worry about how they will look in the media.

Technology used to investigate kidnappings has improved with each case, Fuhrman said, but then added, "Good old-fashioned police work is still what gets the job done."

Even though kidnapping cases can all be unique, they also all have a set of common denominators for detectives to work with, Fuhrman said.

Another area that has changed in recent years is how the media covers kidnappings. In the most high-profile cases, cable TV news channels will devote their entire programming to a particular kidnapping.

"The media has a role to play in (kidnappings)," he said. "I don't think there's any question . . . getting that picture out there, getting that name out there has been effective in a number of cases."

Fuhrman hopes to take the kidnapping conference on the road, possibly to southern Utah so information can be shared with law enforcers who weren't able to drive to Salt Lake City.