Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade has issued a force order mandating that officers bypass the 24-hour requirement to record missing persons reports and that they do so immediately as part of the MARCO Alert system that was put into effect yesterday, according to Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage.
The MARCO Alert is similar to the U.S. Amber Alert, which is a voluntary partnership involving law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies and the wireless industry to activate an urgent bulletin in serious child abduction cases.
At a press conference at Police Headquarters yesterday, Nottage told the media that no incursion on a child’s life should be tolerated and there must be swift and firm action to protect children in The Bahamas.
Recalling the gruesome murder of Marco Archer, 11, on September 23, 2011, Nottage said the day Marco disappeared, police told his family that they had to wait 24 hours before investigating.
On August 2, 2013 Kofhe Goodman was found guilty of Marco’s murder.
He said Marco’s death was one of the most injurious experiences he has had as a representative and as a human being.
As a direct result of the killing, the government amended the Child Protection Act in late 2013.
More than two years later, the government tabled regulations that will govern which cases will prompt the activation of the Marco Alert.
According to the regulations, prior to the issuance of a Marco alert, the commissioner of police “shall in satisfying himself that a child is at risk of harm or death, confirm that there is reasonable belief that a child is missing or has been abducted; that the child is in danger of serious bodily injury or death; and that there is descriptive information about the child that will assist in the recovery of the child”.
In the case of runaways or abduction, the protocol for activating the alert will come where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abducted by a parent, or the child ran away from his or her residence.
The regulations add, “No alert shall be issued unless there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is in danger of serious bodily injury or death”.
Once it has been determined that the protocols for an alert have been met in accordance with regulations, the commissioner of police will initiate the proceedings to get the information on the missing child broadcast and published by the media and other partners.
The regulations to not compel media to report on missing persons, but Nottage said yesterday he expects “maximum corporation”.
He said if it is found that there is no cooperation with reporting missing persons, the next step is to make amendments to the law to make it mandatory.
He said radio stations are expected to air an alert at least three times during the day, but hopes it will be done as frequently as possible.
Newspapers are expected to publish a missing report daily until a child is found.
He said the government is in discussion with a multimedia company to see how best to reach the community with news bulletins, particularly on the Family Islands.
The hotline for missing persons is 322-2763 and 422-2763.