PIERRE — A statewide system to find missing persons in South Dakota was activated Thursday by the law enforcement community.
Officials said the Endangered Persons Advisory Program is designed to quickly disseminate information to the public, law agencies and media about missing people who are in possible danger.
The new system can be used to help find lost children on cold winter days and in instances where people with health problems, disabilities or advancing age may be missing.
State Attorney General Larry Long said the initiative will supplement the existing Amber Alert system that’s used to find children who have been abducted.
The request to declare an Endangered Persons Advisory must come from a law agency, Long said.
“It will allow us in law enforcement to engage the public and get the information out in a fashion that will allow the public to help us locate … folks who are at some risk but who don’t meet the Amber Alert criteria,” he said.
Criteria are strict for Amber Alerts, and they have been issued only twice since that program began in South Dakota five years ago, Long said. Amber Alerts may be issued only when children are abducted and whose are believed to be in danger of injury or death, he said.
There are many other instances where people are missing and may be in danger, the attorney general said.
“We can all think of examples within the last year or two where some elderly person was missing for several days and, tragically, they’re found dead. Or someone who’s got a heart condition disappears, or you have some small child who hasn’t been abducted but has wandered off,” Long said.
Bonnie Feller Hagen, coordinator of the Endangered Persons Advisory Program, said law agencies will initiate advisories when receiving reports about missing people who could be in danger. When police or sheriffs contact State Radio or the Division of Criminal Investigation, an electronic poster will be put together with the pertinent information and displayed on the attorney general’s Web site, she said.
Feller Hagen said the alert also would be disseminated to all law agencies across the state and media would be notified by e-mail so the information can be provided to the public.
Vermillion Police Chief Art Mabry, president of the state Police Chiefs Association, cited a recent scare in which the alert system would have been valuable. He said an autistic child was reported missing, but was quickly found.
Had the new program been implemented at the time, Mabry said he would have immediately used it.
Mike Leidholt, Hughes County sheriff, said it’s imperative to get the public involved quickly when people are missing and believed to be in danger.
“As effective as law enforcement is, we can only be as effective as the help we get from the public,” Leidholt said.
Public help will be a key ingredient of the Endangered Persons Advisory Program, the attorney general agreed.
“It will allow us in law enforcement to engage the public and get the information out in a fashion that will allow the public to help us locate … folks who are at some risk but who don’t meet the Amber Alert criteria,” Long said.
Just two Amber Alerts have been issued in South Dakota since that program began in 2003, he said.
In one instance, a father who abducted his child and the child’s mother in Belle Fourche was apprehended, Long said. The other case involved a report from school children in Watertown that they’d seen a child being abducted, he said. That alert was later canceled when an abduction could not be confirmed, Long said.