Fort Worth neighborhood group questions response to May kidnapping

A neighborhood group is demanding answers from Fort Worth city leaders after delays in issuing an Amber Alert after an 8-year-old was abducted.

The Ryan Place Task Force sent a letter to the city council. It wants to know if the Fort Worth Police Department has made any further policy changes since the young girl was kidnapped in the neighborhood three months ago.

On that day, an Amber Alert didn’t go out properly because there was no working fax machine at the crime scene.

Police did eventually find the girl with Michael Webb in a hotel room in the Fort Worth suburb of Forest Hill. But that was hours after Forest Hill officers questioned Webb at the hotel and two concerned residents reported seeing the car in the parking lot.

Residents in the Ryan Place neighborhood addressed the city council Tuesday with their concerns about how the incident was handled. But police say they were already making improvements within 24 hours after learning from the incident.

“While they did provide us responses for four of our five questions, I think that one question that they didn’t directly address was the citizens review board,” said Cade Lovelace, president of the Ryan Place Improvement Association. “That would allow an outlet for the citizens to present to a board that is going to review the police department and provide some buffer between them. I think that would be helpful for any city.”

Fort Worth police say there are lessons learned from the May kidnapping that prompted a massive hunt to bring an 8-year-old girl home.

“Every time a crisis incident comes like this, we want to make sure we're as ready as we possibly can,” said Fort Worth Police Capt. Deven Pitt.

The biggest questions involve Amber Alert communications.

“We found out the only means of communication from the regional side, the radio stations, was a fax machine, which was a little bit outdated,” Pitt said. “They agreed it was a little bit outdated, so we immediately, within 24 hours, contacted those radio stations. We now have fax, email, followed by a follow-up phone call.”

Police are also getting more training from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They've changed their procedures to now allow all major case detectives and supervisors to send out Amber Alert information, in addition to missing persons detectives. They’re also developing a Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team which will respond when there is a confirmed kidnapping to help vet information and get it out quickly.

“The quicker the better. But we have to have vetted, accurate information in order to get that information out,” Capt. Pitt said. “What we don't want to do is we don't want to rush and get information out that's inaccurate.”

City officials say since the kidnapping in May, they've also made changes to their Nixle cell phone alert system so Amber Alert information can now be sent by text alerts to residents who sign up.

“I think absolutely the city is better prepared. I think we need to be proactive and not just do things in response to terrible things that happen in our community,” said Fort Worth City Councilmember Ann Zadeh. “We need to be looking at what other cities have learned hopefully through things we'll never have to experience.”

City officials hope they can learn from the May kidnapping and be better prepared if it happens again.

“We can't prepare for every situation because something different comes, but as long awe we’re prepared as we can be,” Capt. Pitt said.

Police stressed vetting the information can sometimes create a delay, but is critical so they don't release inaccurate information.

Out of 50 reported kidnappings in Fort Worth this year, police say only two were real.