By Dr. Steve Albrecht
The trope we see most often in movies and TV crime shows is when a child is kidnapped, it’s done by the “creepy guy driving a van.” We tell our kids, as soon as they can know it, about “Stranger Danger,” and we spend our lives worrying about them, even into their adulthood. The truth is according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.MissingKids.org), most children are kidnapped from the custodial parent, who has the legal right to care for them, by the non-custodial parent, who does not.
These incidents either end in tragedy or at a minimum, with plenty of trauma for the anguished parent and the child, who, we hope, is far too young to fully comprehend what is happening and why. It takes an effort by police, social workers, and the courts to get the child safely back with the proper parent.
The other trope we see on the screen is the woman who can’t have a baby and steals one from the Neonatal Unit at the local hospital. Thankfully, these incidents are extremely rare because hospitals have realized the tremendous liability, emotional harm, and horrible publicity that comes with allowing this crime to occur because they didn’t have vigilant staff, effective security and access controls, and constant monitoring policies.
As a part of what hospitals do, the use color codes broadcasted over their public address (PA) systems to tell staff about emergency situations. These are often followed by the building location, as in, “Code Blue, Room 348,” which tells the medical staff to respond with a cardiac crash cart to the third floor. This is the most common building-code announcement, but there are other hospital codes for other events:
Code Red - Fire
Code Silver/Gray - Active Shooter
Code Orange - Radioactive, Chemical, or Biological Hazard
Code Green - Patient Elopement/Walkaway
Code Black - Bomb Threat
Code Violent - Violent Person
Code Pink - Abducted Infant or Young Child
The response plan in an actual Code Pink emergency in a hospital is to immediately send all available medical, security, and even administrative staff to their nearest exterior exit door and stop anyone from leaving with an infant or toddler.
Hospital Security officers coordinate with the supervisors and employees at the location where the child was last seen and take an immediate look at all available video camera footage to get a description of the abductor and the abductee. They will allow actual parents with children to leave and detain potential child-stealers for the police.
Now, let’s focus on the possibility of a stolen child at the library. Your library needs a similar plan, where staff has been trained (and has practiced it in an annual drill) to drop what they are doing when they hear a Code Pink PA announcement, move to their nearest entry/exit door, and stop anyone from leaving with a child. Only after it has been verified that the person is the bona fide parent, caregiver, or guardian, can they both be allowed to leave. If the person who has taken the child pushes past the library employee to escape but leaves the child behind, so much the better. We just want the kid to be safe and we can provide video footage and/or a detailed description of the perpetrator to the police when they arrive.
The following possible disturbing scenarios that could occur in your library, although they are rare:
- a child is kidnapped by a stranger in the library, either when the parent or caregiver is not looking or when the child has come to the library alone or with friends;
- a child encounters the kidnapper in the public restroom (or worse, when the kidnapper hides in the children’s-only restroom);
- a child is grabbed in the parking lot while walking toward the library.
What is most likely, however, is when the non-custodial parent and the custodial parent either meet in the library parking lot or inside the library to arrange the visitation exchange or to discuss why were won’t be a visitation exchange, and the kid gets taken by the non-custodial parent by force. (I have heard judges and family court advocates suggest the “local library is a good neutral meeting place” for these types of high-stress encounters.) It can be quite an emotional moment for all concerned when a tearful mom runs inside the library to tell the staff that her child has been taken by her former spouse or partner. This is definitely the time for a 9-1-1 call. In any potential crime or violent situation that happens inside or outside your library, you should provide the responding police with any parking lot camera video or internal camera video footage. Seconds and minutes matter.
Anyone who has followed my blog, podcast, and webinar content here at Library 2.0 knows I believe in the need for occasional practice drills for high-stress/high-threat emergency situations, e.g., Run-Hide drills for a potential active shooter; fire drills; and evacuations for gas leaks, power blackouts, and HazMat spills. These drills should be done before the library opens and with full staff awareness that they are going to occur. No need to surprise or frighten staff with a seemingly realistic situation that is actually a drill--those wrongly coordinated events offer a good way to terrorize, injure, or demoralize library staff, and they can create trust issues with management and don’t help with learning or compliance.
A pre-planned Code Pink drill can be done by telling staff about the incident through the library PA system (or megaphones used by supervisors or PICs, which can be brought, not surprisingly, on Amazon). The drill should start with the announcement, “Code Pink! Attention All Staff - Code Pink!” All staff should move quickly to the exits, including those accessible only through an internal staff hallway, since bad people may use the employees-only section of the library to get free. (Yet another reason to keep those non-public doors locked by key card access.) During the drill, other staff who are not guarding the doors can help with the search of the building, looking in kid-sized hiding places, unused rooms, restrooms, etc., until it’s time to end the exercise.
In a real event, all staff should block the exit doors and wait for a description of the missing child as it comes in. As soon as it becomes clear after a fast search that the child is definitely not in the library and is presumed missing, call 9-1-1. For anyone attempting to leave with a child, staff must ask the right questions to verify who is who, and if they have doubts, say, “You’ll have to stay here until the police arrive to sort this out.”
The reason for the Code Pink drill and real-time response is to stop the kidnapper before he or she can leave and to help get the child back. Time is critical in these actual events. Like other potentially bad things that may or may not ever happen at your library, it’s best to have a plan, a building-wide notification, staff training, and a drill in place to make it more likely we can stop this potentially tragic crime.