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Across county lines, police collaborate in child abductions

The call came in on a recent Friday afternoon.

Missing 4-year-old boy.

Paul Nanfito considered his options.

For the last 18-plus months, the police chief of Red Bluff, a town of about 14,000 overlooking the Sacramento River in Tehama County, has had at his disposal a program believed to be unique in California – and perhaps the nation.

Called CART, for Child Abduction Response Team, the program involves several law enforcement agencies spanning three counties. Although similar child-abduction response teams exist to allow agencies to pool their efforts to work more efficiently and exhaustively, the Northern California CART is believed to be the only multi-county program in existence.

The 4-year-old had gone missing for about an hour.

Nanfito was about to activate CART after a search of the boy’s neighborhood turned up nothing.

Then, about five minutes before Nanfito was about to punch in some numbers on his cell phone to set CART into motion, the boy was found. While his father had been on an errand, the boy had slipped unnoticed into the unlocked back trunk of his father’s SUV and had fallen asleep.

“The back of the SUV pops open, and out crawls the kid,” Nanfito says. “Everyone involved suddenly went from panic-stricken to feeling immense relief.”

Although this scare had a happy ending, the Red Bluff P.D. was faced with a grimmer outcome in February, when it activated CART after a 14-year-old female had gone missing. Two days later, her body was found in a creek area near Red Bluff High School. She had been strangled. A 39-year-old suspect is in custody.

At a news conference following the discovery of the girl’s body, Nanfito said that CART had resulted in the influx of 60 law-enforcement personnel to search for the missing teen.

It’s the kind of effort whose outcome cannot be predicted, but an effort that is sorely needed – especially at smaller police agencies like Red Bluff that need as much help as possible when crises like a missing child erupts, Nanfito says.

“CART is a critical component when handling large incidents like this,” says Nanfito, whose department has 23 sworn officers. “It allows us to pull in the resources we need.”

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, the multi-county CART program of which the Red Bluff P.D. is a member was first initiated by now-retired Redding Police Chief Peter Hansen. It now includes agencies from Tehama, Shasta and Siskiyou counties. The team includes the police departments of Red Bluff, Redding, Anderson, Eureka, Weed, Mt. Shasta and Corning, in addition to sheriff’s departments in the three counties.  Members of the team include CHP Northern Division, as well as the CHP Area Commands in Tehama, Shasta and Siskiyou Counties. 

The CART team is activated on a regional basis. Using the recent homicide as an example, the CART team activation included the CART members from the agencies within Tehama County. Had the initial investigation lasted longer, CART members from other counties would have been activated to bring additional resources and to relieve team members who had been working for four to five days in a row.

“We also have the ability to activate the entire team from all three counties if the need arises,” Nanfito says.  

The CART team is a formal organization that is bound together by formal memos of understanding from the member agencies.

“This is important, as it is the glue that binds the team together,” Nanfito says.

The program has executive oversight through a formal executive board that meets quarterly. There are team leaders that assist with the coordination of CART callouts and training. Callouts are initiated through the ShasCom multi-agency Dispatch Center in Redding. 

Nanfito sees CART as a model for law enforcement agencies everywhere.

“The CART concept is a great example of law enforcement agencies working together for a common goal,” he says. “In the case of a missing child, working collaboratively is very important because frequently time is critical to the successful recovery of the victim.” 

"Furthermore, The CART program would not be successful if not for all parties involved. Lt. Dan Flowerdew, was the Incident Commander for the  CART call-out during the Maryssa Nichols Homicide investigation. He did and outstanding job managing the large number of resources that were deployed during that call-out."
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