Child Rescue Alert (CRA) is based on an American concept called “AMBER Alert” and was first piloted by Sussex Police following the abduction and murder of Sarah Payne. CRA is intended to alert members of the public to the abduction or other high-risk disappearance quickly, and to provide a mechanism for policing to be able to receive and prioritise critical information. Evidence suggests the police are the trusted source for information dissemination, and for a CRA to be successful the host force must have the ability to secure, risk assess and action the incoming information.
CRA is a partnership between the police, the media and the public that seeks the assistance of the public where it is feared that there is a real, immediate risk to the life of a child. The aim is to quickly engage the entire community via all media channels in the search for the child, offender or any specified vehicle through reports of relevant information to the police. The CRA has flexibility in its use as it can be used in a targeted way in one or more geographic locations, immediately be activated on a national level, or be grown as the information received or the level of media response dictates. A CRA is a dynamic tool for consideration by a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) in the most high-risk and problematic cases. By use of the CRA brand, effectiveness should be greater and hold more public attention than a high-risk media appeal.
The intention of activating a CRA is to quickly recover a child where it is feared that there is a real, immediate risk to life. The recovering and safeguarding of the child is paramount, and arrest of the perpetrator is an ancillary benefit.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) Investigations Command manages and is responsible for the delivery of CRA on behalf of UK policing. The NCA offers advice and operational support when a force is considering such a tactical option with 24 hour tactical advice.
CRA is a tactical option for an SIO to consider as part of an overt police response to the most high-risk cases of missing or abducted children, where the release of specific information to the public via media channels may assist in the safe recovery of a child.
The priority must always be to rescue the child, although it is still important to give due consideration to the impact that such a high-profile media alert will have on the child in the future. Contingencies must be in place to ensure that police services are properly prepared to receive and investigate a high-volume engagement with the police. They must also be in a position to respond to and maximise the investigative opportunities arising from those contacts. Self-generated social and internet messages cannot be managed or stopped, but a strong message from the police will provide a place to go to for definitive information.
Such cases may attract a high level of public interest, potentially resulting in a high level of contact with the police and a proliferation of messages circulated by interested parties on social media.