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Officers trained in tracking humans used in search for missing teen

(Mary Richards)

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Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department has a unique resource: certified, trained specialists trained in tracking humans and wildlife.

They were involved in the search for 14-year-old Steven Smith who had wandered away from his family at This Is the Place Heritage Park Wednesday.

Salt Lake City police officer Richard Chipping enjoys following in others footsteps. He shows the signs that are so obvious to him, and every blade of grass tells a story.

“The common signs of moving through brush are pulling the vegetation in that direction, which would be called shining,” Chipping said. “We also have shine or compression where the foot has pressed down that vegetation. Its surface comes more reflective because it’s more uniform. So it would show up as a brighter spot as you are looking across the landscape there.”

Chipping spent six years training to read the land, and those skills went to good use after Steven went missing from This Is the Place Heritage Park.

Officer Chipping came on duty at 8 a.m. Thursday and offered his services to help find Smith, who was missing since Wednesday night.

Chipping knew Smith’s stride from his shoe size, height and weight.

“As I’m walking through a trail, I’m also going to be looking for along the side for evidence he was moving through brush or anything else,” Chipping said. "When (Stephen) had traveled up the hill, he dislodged a piece of old grass probably from a year before."

Chipping could also tell from the trail that Stephen was alone.

"You can see it in one direction. There is nobody else who came here, so it wasn't that some other guy did this to this person."

Then came the news a homeowner found Smith, who has a mild form of autism, in the backyard of a large home in the Federal Heights neighborhood where he had spent the night.

Chipping says in missing children cases, the public is most helpful by searching their own yards and neighborhoods, and letting professionals scour the scene for clues.

“If people come into that scene, they might destroy evidence or contaminate the area and make it more difficult for us to do our search,” he said.


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