The Dent County Sheriff’s Department is the first to use Missouri Watch, a digital platform that inspires community watch members to take action to help law enforcement find missing children.
The web app was coded by Mikol Skaggs, a Dent County Deputy, to honor the memory of Hailey Owens, whose life may have been saved by a faster, more efficient AMBER Alert system in Missouri. in 2014.
You can sign up to be part of the Dent County Missouri Watch program by texting HERO to (573) 531-2050, or by scanning a QR code included with this article and on posters that will appear at Dent County businesses.
When a child has been abducted in your area, Missouri Watch members receive an enhanced AMBER alert that includes a photo of the child in question, an assigned watch area, and a link to the Missouri Watch platform, which broadcasts the latest research information and instructions for users. Citizens can go to their watch zone, call law enforcement to report a sighting, or check in to be assigned another watch zone.
According to Josh Schisler, founder of AlertL.ink, the small private company that created Missouri Watch.
Law enforcement can see where citizens are looking, allowing them to focus on checking unsupervised areas and looking for leads from the community. There is also a live stream and chat that allows members to coordinate their efforts and follow the top researchers of the day.
The premise is that there is power in numbers.
“When more people take the time to check in to their assigned watch zones, it dramatically increases the chances of finding a missing child quickly.” Schisler said.
Schisler traveled to Salem last month to speak to members of Dent County Community Watch at their June 17 meeting, where he discussed the platform’s purpose and history as well as support from the Dent County Sheriff’s Office to the program.
Schisler worked closely with Skaggs, who is the Dent County deputy and former dispatcher who did the herculean work of programming Missouri Watch.
“This app is based on community monitoring,” Skaggs said, and its success for a community depends on Dent County residents taking the time to use it.
“MP Skaggs has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make it simple and safe for the public to help find abducted children,” Schisler said of Skaggs’ contribution. Schisler and Skaggs first met through local victims’ attorney Zach Sanders.
“Now it’s up to each of us to join the Dent County Missouri Watch and commit to taking a few minutes to look around when we receive an alert.”
Schisler is also buying the statewide platform to engage other communities in Missouri Watch.
The urgent cry of an AMBER Alert is not an unfamiliar event to Americans, dating back to 1996 when Texas broadcasters teamed up to create a system to mobilize citizens across the country to help find children born disappeared. The alert is named in honor of Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered. AMBER alerts include victim name and age, suspect name and age, vehicle information and last known location.
Since its inception, the Amber Alert system has helped law enforcement locate abducted children. As of May 1 this year, AMBER Alerts has helped recover a total of 1,114 children since its first broadcast, according to data tabulated by the US Department of Justice.
That said, the alert system was never infallible and had to be continually refined. Over the past 26 years, the medium for delivering these alerts has evolved from radio broadcast to its current iteration as a specialized text message that urgently alerts people to be on the lookout for a missing child and information that could help find this child. The Missouri Watch platform is an example of the continuous progress being made.
Fast forward to 2014 in Missouri when 10-year-old Hailey Owen was kidnapped, raped and murdered in Springfield while driving home from a friend’s house on February 18.
The statewide Amber Alert for Hailey’s abduction was not issued until more than two hours after the initial 911 call, according to a July 12, 2019, Springfield News-Leader article. .
After Hailey’s death, lawmakers moved quickly to expedite the Amber Alert system by moving from paper to an electronic system, the News-Leader reported.
Monday marked the third anniversary of Governor Mike Parson signing a law known as “HAILEY’S Law,” which requires the AMBER Alert System to be incorporated into Missouri’s Uniform Law Enforcement system. (MULES) and requires that the AMBER Alert Oversight Committee meet at least once a year.
The law was backed by Rolla State Senator Justin Brown, also allows alerts to come with links to more information about missing children and ways to help with searches.
Schisler told The Salem News that Deputy Skaggs worked closely with Brown and other legislative leaders at the time and had since spent countless hours in committee meetings and discussions with government officials. law enforcement as well as in platform programming.
Despite implementation delays, those ties were finally included in 2020 after persistent efforts by Brown, Sen. Eric Burlison, Rep. Curtis Trent, Skaggs and other advocates.
“Critical linking language was never included until Skaggs got involved,” said Schisler, who praised Skaggs personally traveling to Jefferson City to meet with lawmakers to to advocate for further improvements to the existing AMBER alert system.
“You can get so much information from the internet,” Skaggs said. “With an AMBER alert when someone clicks leave, they’re gone.
“Unless you just wrote that license plate [number]you won’t remember it.
Skaggs also pointed out that people are unlikely to remember this information, which is where adding the link came in.
Skaggs explained that with the link received by Missouri Watch members, it’s more conducive to take action by providing both a photo and a search location, and that’s much better than just clicking OK on the [AMBER Alert] and then you don’t think about it anymore.
Skaggs said the measure of success for the program he developed is simple, it’s successful “when people use it and kids are found out of it,” he said.
Skaggs was recognized by the governor’s office in an official proclamation, which described Skaggs as “an integral part of passing HAILEY’s law.”
The proclamation also referenced Skaggs’ participation on the state of Missouri’s AMBER Alert Monitoring Committee, which is now required to meet at least once a year to “help ensure that progress is leveraged to improve the state’s AMBER Alert System”.
Schisler speaks passionately about making Missouri a safer place for our children. He said adding these links to AMBER Alerts is an important step in making Missouri a safer place for children.
The prototype initially designed by Skaggs – known as the HAILEY app – was another milestone, and Missouri Watch is another, but according to Schisler, the most important milestone is involving law enforcement and members of the state community in the use of the application.
“[Missouri] needed a platform to bring citizens together to help find abducted children,” Skaggs said. According to Skaggs and Schisler, Missouri Watch is that platform. Dent County Sheriff Bob Wells told The Salem News he’s pleased his office is implementing the platform to improve community safety.