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Police stage kidnapping to test reaction

Neighborhood Watch key in helping locate 5-year-old boy

SHARE Police stage kidnapping to test reaction

SANDY — Police rarely have time to practice their reaction to a crime, but this past week, several officers ran through the drill of a staged kidnapping and were able to find the victim in just over an hour.

Neighborhood Watch, FBI and representatives from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children joined a partial force from the Sandy police department in a set-up scenario to help locate a 5-year-old boy who was taken by his father from the playground at Falcon Park.

"It's a chance to do everything and anything we'd possibly do in a real situation," said Sandy Police Sgt. Mitch Howard. "So we're ready, if God forbid, it happens for real."

Just after 6 p.m. Tuesday, "Sam" was playing in the snow with other children, while his mother was watching slightly out of reach. His father showed up and snatched him away.

Witnesses were on hand and were questioned, some providing useful information and others not recalling what they had seen. Officers were then sent to canvass the neighborhood, looking for the boy.

Neighborhood Watch was also available to support the officers efforts and to spread the experience throughout the community.

"The insight we gain as neighbors is priceless," said Barbara Salsbury, a Neighborhood Watch participant. "We need to learn how to work as a community to solve these problems."

All of the actors involved in the role play knew it wasn't real, but they did their best to maintain accuracy so officers could gain the experience they would in a real kidnapping event.

"It's a great opportunity to help teach the officers what to do in this situation and to be more observant in our own neighborhoods," said Jeannie Hammitt, who has lived in the Falcon Park neighborhood for nearly 20 years and has never had to help look for a missing child there.

Knowing the situation isn't real is a comfort, but Hammitt said it still hits home.

"I'm a teacher and I think it's more real for the children involved because they are used to seeing these sort of things on TV," she said.

Officers were required to report back to a command center with their leads and document every home and person who was contacted in the search for Sam, Howard said. He said the results will be used in training sessions to "identify any holes in the system."

Sam was found safe at his own home after an hour and 15 minutes of foot work by police.

"This doesn't happen very often, but it's good to be prepared when it does," Howard said.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com