NEW PORT RICHEY — In the search for missing children and endangered adults, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office has increased its reach — on the ground and online.
The agency unveiled two new capabilities Wednesday for its Missing Abducted Child Team: The first is a Polaris Ranger 6x6 all-terrain vehicle that deputies are already using to search Pasco's forests and swamps.
The second is a new Web capability that will allow deputies to publish photos, video and audio recordings of the missing children online.
Sheriff Bob White called them the newest "tools in our toolbox."
And all of it was paid for by donations to the Sheriff's Office.
The Ranger ATV is worth about $12,000. Another $2,000 in donations paid for the trailer to haul it around.
The Sheriff's Office used to rely on four-wheel ATVs from its agriculture unit and from volunteers to search for the missing in the backwoods and backroads of areas such as Anclote, Aripeka and the Cypress Creek Wellfield.
But now the Missing Abducted Child Team can call on its own all-terrain vehicle in an emergency.
Deputies recounted how they recently used the vehicle to search Hudson for a missing 9-year-old. The Ranger traversed a 60-degree incline without a problem. The child was quickly found unharmed.
"This will enable us to go into the hardest to reach areas in the county," Detective Richard Scilex said.
In April 2007, the Missing Abducted Child Team received its main vehicle, a recreational vehicle that is used as a command center whenever a search is launched.
Now that vehicle has been equipped with computer equipment providing wireless access to the Internet.
The RV was paid for with $150,000 in donations, and its new online capabilities were the result of another $60,000 in donations to the agency.
"The last time we had a missing child call out in Wesley Chapel, we had three different descriptions of the same child," said Sgt. Brett Landsberg.
That could result in "false positive" identifications, which could hamper any search. But now that won't be a problem. Searchers will be able to identify the missing by their photos, their mannerisms and their voice.
The data will be available to the media and the public at pascosheriff.org.
"The minute there's a search," Landsberg said, "We can start broadcasting to the Web."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.