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Experience of Missing Child in Police Custody
stardragonblue wrote in little_details
I am finding a lot of material about reporting a missing child, but not much for the experiences of a missing/lost child who has just been found. The keywords I used included: missing children, Massachusetts runaway, Massachusetts missing children, missing children stories/experiences, how do the police process a lost child, what do I do if I find a lost child, when police find a lost child, police database, US police database, National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, when do found children get put in foster care.

The background:
A lost 10-year-old girl is picked up by the police in a small town in Massachusetts (present day). She was driven to a nearby town to see a movie, got in a fight with one of her new friends, popped someone in the nose and has blood all over her sleeves, and was picked up while she was walking back to the small town. She is a new arrival to the area, and has spent 100% of the time at her uncles' farmhouse. She isn't familiar with the area and doesn't know the town's layout, so she doesn't remember the way back home (she was driven, the farmhouse is out in the woods, and at this point, it's night). She forgot her phone at home and doesn't know her address or anyone's phone number. Other possible snags include the fact that the adults living at the farmhouse are either (a) living there under assumed names or (b) don't legally exist (they're hiding from an international criminal organization). Also, a "missing child" notice was filed for aforesaid child in her infancy by aforesaid criminal organization.

My questions:
1) How would the police treat her? I guessed on a Q&A session (what's your name, what's your parents' names, where do you live, oh so you're visiting? what was your last address, what's your phone number, so you got in a fight?, over what?). She totally screws up. She gives conflicting information, mixes up false names and stumbles over her own, admits that she and her father move a lot and that they were homeless, and claims that her mother is dead and that she doesn't know her name. Under what circumstances would a child be given a physical/checked for signs of abuse? Would police check "missing child" notices under these circumstances? If they became suspicious, what kinds of actions would they take, and are there particular questions they would ask her? What kind of information would they require of an adult who came to pick her up?

2) Under what circumstances would police enter pertinent information about her into a database, and what kind of database do the police use? So far I'm guessing on the National Crime Information Center, followed by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, although I'm confused if both would be used or if one would be preferred over the other. Would the police take her picture, and if she didn't want her picture taken, would they insist or get suspicious? Would a "Found Child" notice be sent out to other police stations?

3) Can I alert my criminal organization to the child's existence using database skullduggery? I ask because in my ideal universe, the criminal organization is scanning police reports for certain keywords, which my stupid child then uses. I figured that the criminals use bots, and that they'd cracked the NCIC database or had insiders; in the case of the NamUS, which is public, I believed bots would suffice. I also considered alerting the criminals by using the police themselves--ie, some data lines up on the missing child notice, and the police connect the dots and call the criminals. (The child does have some easily identifiable physical traits that would last past infancy.) If these are not ideal ways to alert my criminals, is there some other method that might work better?

4) Where would she stay? If she had to stay overnight, where would she sleep, and how would they care for her? Right now I have her snoozing in an office chair, wrapped up in someone's coat; earlier, someone gave her a tv dinner and a bottled water. In the case the search went on longer than a day, what kind of care could she expect from the police? Would she be turned over to a shelter of some kind, or temporarily put into foster care, etc?

Many thanks for your help! :)

I am a 25 year 911 dispatcher in California, in a medium sized sheriff's office - I can only speak from my experience.

A patrol unit would attempt to figure out what had happened - dispatch would make calls to the movie theater and/or call the neighboring jurisdiction to go out there. All attempts would be made to reunite the child with her father. The child would be run through the state criminal justice data bases which are automatically forwarded to the FBI/NCIC (National Crime Information Computer) for a routine check. If the child hasn't been reported missing under the name she gives, she would be 'clear'. Children under 11 are not entered in the wanted person data bases. MUPS is the California missing/unidentified persons data base. The national (NCIC) data bases are divided - a missing person data base and a separate unidentified person data base.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children would be an excellent resource to research a child who had been reported missing in the past.

If there was anything suspicious regarding the child or her story, an officer would speak to her and then Child Protective Services would be called to take custody of the child. The idea of her sleeping in a police station or the like is out of date or confined to very small, very rural police department - too much liability in that. If the child had bruising consistent with abuse, she'd be taken by CPS and put in a children's emergency receiving home.

It is more likely that there would be an insider who relayed information, as the misc data entered by each state doesn't always get forwarded to NCIC, so there might not be 'key words' to hit. Most misc fields in entries are limited to 250 spaces (approx) and those are used for clothing, medical conditions, and circumstances of the disappearance. Obvious physical deformities or marks would be put into the data base.

If all else failed, CPS and/or law enforcement could put out a nationwide teletype on the child, asking for information. There's not really any way of entering a 'found' child in the data base.

Hopefully this helps.

It does--a great deal! Thank you very much!

I hate to suggest this, but if I was hiding out from the law, I don't think I'd let a 10-year old relative go out with new friends (that I didn't know extremely well) without some kind of supervision. I know that's not what you were asking about, but it seems implausible to me.

She wasn't supposed to leave--she sneaked out. Thus, problems :(

You may want to cross post to

They seem to be willing to help writers.

Good luck.

Oh my word, that's awesome. Thank you so much!!