Oneonta Police Chief Dennis Nayor is redoubling efforts to teach parents about preventing child abductions and to train offers to respond if such a crime were to occur.
And it could happen in this area, according to law enforcement officials.
“There is no guarantee of safety — we hope it never happens,” Nayor said. “But we have to prepare.”
Nayor has issued guidelines for the police department and has pointers for parents. He was spurred into heightened efforts as the result of recent, near tandem events — his attendance at a seminar on missing children and news about three women escaping captivity in Cleveland after being abducted about a decade ago.
Nayor said the major lesson he learned at training presented by National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Rochester on April 30 and May 1 was that the organization’s resources are available to any jurisdiction, including the Oneonta Police Department.
“The most important reminder from the training was that we, in law enforcement, have only one chance to do things right at the beginning of an investigation in order to ensure the best possibility of rescuing an abducted child,” Nayor said in a May 6 memorandum to the department.
“This is something that would be every parent’s worst nightmare, so a successful resolution depends upon our actions.”
Nayor distributed investigative checklists to follow and shared other facts about abductions and guidelines for responding to reports of missing children and teenagers.
Later on May 6, three Cleveland women were rescued from captivity about 10 years after vanishing. Authorities are holding a man charged in their abductions.
Abductions have happened in this area and could happen again, Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin said Tuesday.
Children need to know about dangerous situations, Devlin said, and he also encouraged parents in today’s fast-paced lifestyle to take time to know their children’s whereabouts, plans, friends and associates. He urged parents to notify deputies immediately if a child is missing or suspicious circumstances arise.
“The sooner we’re notified, the sooner we can get involved, the better off we are, too,” Devlin said.
May 25 is National Missing Children’s Day, Nayor noted. And on Friday, the NCMEC’s New York/Mohawk Valley Office in Utica will hold its Ride for Missing Children to honor missing children, increase awareness of their plight and raise money to support efforts to find them and promote prevention of abduction and exploitation.
Citing U.S. Justice Department data, about 800,000 children are reported missing annually, Nayor said, of which about 58,000 are non-family abductions and more than 200,000 are custodial cases.
Nayor urged parents to develop “open relationships” with their children so that they communicate about activities, who is involved and when plans change. Children can — and should — be taught about looking out for themselves, being witnesses and communicating about themselves, he said.
The police department has been reviving and enhancing programs that reach out to and help children, Nayor said.
One significant steps taken toward protecting children were restoring the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a program better known as DARE, early last year, Nayor said. Through DARE, children learn about potentially dangerous situations and develop creative and critical decision-making skills to address them, he said.
Another key step was sending Kerriann Harrington of the department’s communications staff to the NCMEC training for dispatchers earlier this year.
Nayor said the department will begin an investigation immediately upon receiving a call about a missing child.
Most abductions occur within a quarter-mile of where a child was last seen, Nayor said in his departmental memo, which instructed officers to conduct a thorough search at a child’s house and yard. In one case cited at training, he said, a child crawled into a clothes dryer and couldn’t get out.
Nayor distributed a checklist to follow in responding to a call about a missing or abducted child. The police department is available for presentations to community organizations, schools or other groups on topics ranging from anti-bullying for children and adolescents to bicycle safety and crime prevention.
“Parents really should take time to educate their children,” Nayor said. “There should be firm rules.”
Nayor said rules and lessons include:
• Don’t talk to strangers or take rides from strangers.
• Children should know that if someone does try to abduct them, they should yell and kick and avoid being enclosed in a car that could take them away, he said.
• Strangers shouldn’t be allowed into a home.
• Children answering a telephone shouldn’t share personal information.
Children also can learn “to be good witnesses,” Nayor said. For example, if a vehicle is involved, they can get the color and license number of the car, he said. Parents can teach their children through role-playing and other game-like exercises, he said.
Parents and children also should be cautious about adults who are overly friendly to youngsters, Nayor said.
“There are predators out there,” Nayor said. “It could be someone they know.”
Just in case, Nayor said, parents also should have current photographs of their children and make a mental note each day of the clothes they are wearing.
The department also is using social media, including Facebook and the department’s website to provide the community with information to enhance public safety.
In a recently started service, the department is using Nixle, an information provider, to alert residents about weather, street closures, missing persons and other notices, Nayor said. To sign up to receive cellphone text messages or email, visit Nixle’s website at www.nixle.com.