AMBER Alert Awareness Day

January 13, 2009

 

Today, January 13th is AMBER Alert Awareness Day.

The AMBER Alert™ Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child.

The AMBER Alert (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) honors the memory Amber Hageman who was murdered after being abducted from her home in 1996. The AMBER Alert became a nationally coordinated effort in 2002. There have been more than 426 AMBER Alert recoveries.

Though it is often described as a system used to assist in finding missing children, most states only activate them in the case where a child has been abducted.

The AMBER Alert system began in 1996 when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. The system was created in memory of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas, who was abducted while riding her bicycle and later found murdered. AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alerts are emergency messages broadcast when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger. The broadcasts include information about the child and the abductor, including physical descriptions and information about the abductor’s vehicle, which could lead to the child’s recovery.

What are the criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts?

Each state AMBER Alert plan has its own criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts. The PROTECT Act, passed in 2003, which established the role of AMBER Alert Coordinator within the Department of Justice (DOJ), calls for DOJ to issue minimum standards or guidelines for AMBER Alerts that states can adopt voluntarily. DOJ’s guidance on criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts is:

  • Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place
  • The child is at risk of serious injury or death
  • There is sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor’s vehicle to issue an alert
  • The child must be 17 years old or younger

Advertisements

Lost, missing or abducted

December 6, 2008

What if your child was missing? You would encourage police to issue an AMBER Alert or at the very least  to have him/her listed at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children immediately, wouldn’t you?

But, did you know AMBER Alerts are issued for children believed to have been abducted, not simply missing. In Virginia there is currently a missing child alert for a three-year-old boy who was last seen around 4:00 Friday December 5. He did not qualify for an AMBER Alert and he isn’t  listed at the NCMEC yet if you speak with law enforcement, all will agree the first three hour are critical in finding missing or abducted children.

ABC 13 – Three-Year-Old Missing – Crews in Halifax County are still searching for a missing three-year-old.The child is a boy with light complexion named Jaylynn Thorpe. Police say he is wearing blue jeans, a red striped shirt, and a camouflage jacket.

Update 12-07-08: Dogs May Have Saved Boy’s Life

However in this article ” Missing toddler found safe in Halifax County“, there is this frightening statement.

Officials say about 50% of three-year-olds who wander from home are found within a half mile.

What happens to the other 50%?


The Oh Really Factor

September 13, 2008

When a child is reported missing, what factors should determine how law enforcement reacts or how much the general public cares? Most of you would probably say it doesn’t matter, just find the child. You may even be offended if you thought for a moment any of these may impact the decision to get involved or officially begin search efforts.

  1. child’s age
  2. race
  3. religion
  4. type of abduction- custodial dispute or family abduction
  5. history of running away
  6. lifestyle- substance abuse or promiscuity

If you speak with parents of missing children you may be surprised to learn many felt they were factors in the initial discussions with first responders. When their child was first reported missing many believe one of the obstacles they initially faced was having to explain why they shouldn’t be.

The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 requires each federal, state, and local law-enforcement agency to enter information about missing children younger than the age of 18 into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. The AMBER Alert site recommends authorities immediately enter AMBER Alert data into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. 

A quick glance at the AMBER Alert criteria automatically disqualifies most children from being eligible for an activation.

Age of Child

Every state adopt the “17 years of age or younger” standard; or, at a minimum, agree to honor the request of any other state to issue an AMBER Alert, even if the case does not meet the responding state’s age criterion, as long as it meets the age criterion of the requesting state. Most AMBER plans call for activation of the alert for children under a certain age. The problem is that age can vary—some plans specify 10, some 12, some 14, 15, and 16. Differences in age requirements create confusion when an activation requires multiple alerts across states and jurisdictions.

The AMBER ALERT is not intended for cases involving runaways or parental abduction, except in life-threatening situations. In some cases a spouse or relative has been murdered in the course of the abduction yet an Alert wasn’t issued because the child was not believed to be in danger.

Some other factors from various States AMBER Alert plans for consideration concern the abductor:

  1. Has the child ever been abused physically or sexually by this person?
  2. Has the abductor threatened the child with bodily harm or death?
  3. Is the abductor an abuser of alcohol or drugs?
  4. Was the person under the influence of alcohol or other substance when the child was abducted?

Official AMBER Alert

August 21, 2008

There is an initiative, funded by a grant awarded by the National Institute of Justice, in West Virginia to have a picture taken annually when your child starts school which is stored in the event they become a missing child.

AmberView® mass broadcasts a digital picture of a missing or abducted child to law enforcement, news media, and citizens within minutes of an official AMBER Alert – effectively putting thousands of people across an entire region on alert.

With parental consent, a child’s digital picture is captured each year on School Picture day and stored, along with updated biographical information, in a secure database accessible only by the West Virginia State Police AMBER Alert Coordinator.

 
At first glance it appears to be a terrific idea not unlike the Child Alert Center. The site has a short film (video) describing a missing child abduction. In the film the presenter makes two interesting statements:
 
“Next to the actually abductor time is a missing child’s greatest enemy”
“What was your child wearing, a parent can’t provide an accurate biographical description of their child.”

Watching it, two questions may need to be answered.

What if my child’s appearance changes over the course of the year?

What if an AMBER Alert isn’t issued?

Alaska and Vermont issued their first AMBER Alerts on June 21, 2008 and on June 27, 2008 respectively. How many AMBER Alerts have been issued in your state? For an Alert to be issued, it has to meet specific criteria:

Each state AMBER Alert plan has its own criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts. The PROTECT Act, passed in 2003, which established the role of AMBER Alert Coordinator within the Department of Justice (DOJ), calls for DOJ to issue minimum standards or guidelines for AMBER Alerts that states can adopt voluntarily. DOJ’s guidance on criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts is:

  • Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place
  • The child is at risk of serious injury or death
  • There is sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor’s vehicle to issue an alert
  • The child must be 17 years old or younger
  • It is recommended that immediate entry of AMBER Alert data be entered in FBI’s National Crime Information Center. Text information describing the circumstances surrounding the abduction of the child should be entered, and the case flagged as Child Abduction.

Most state’s guidelines adhere closely to DOJ’s recommended guidelines.

Nearly 800,000 children are reported missing every year yet less than 300 annually have qualified for an Amber Alert since its inception. In fact, 90% of the 311 AMBER Alert recoveries have occurred since the AMBER Alert became a nationally coordinated effort in 2002.

There were 275 Alerts issued nationwide in 2005, falling to 262 in 2006 and 227 in 2007.


Texting fake AMBER Alerts

July 25, 2008

A disturbing new trend is the creation of fake AMBER Alerts that are being circulated via text messages. As documented on Snopes ,  “alerts” have historically traveled around the world many times through emails. The difference in this case is should you receive one as a text message, the sense of urgency to act probably is much greater. Unfortunately, they can hamper the efforts to find actual missing children as the public becomes more apathetic toward these messages.

The capability of receiving both text, photos and to browse the web on mobile devices has provided an excellent opportunity to issue legitimate alerts as needed.


What if it were your child missing?

July 16, 2008

 

Mistakenly, most parents assume an alert will automatically be issued should their child go missing. In fact, less than 500 AMBER Alerts have been issued nationwide in the history of the alert system. Some states, Alaska and Vermont only recently activated their first ever alerts.

 

The Child Alert Center  was started in order to fill the void for those missing children who possibly won’t qualify for an AMBER Alert but need critical information distributed immediately. The service supplements the search efforts for those who do. Parents proactively register their child’s data in an affordable web-based registry that increases the chances of bringing a missing child home.

By securely storing photographs and identifying information about your child, in the case of an emergency, our child safety specialists in a timely manner contact resources nationwide to distribute the information and photos, in the form of a poster to aid in search efforts. In minutes, Child Alert Center can provide critical information to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies so they in turn can search more effectively for a missing child.

The goal is not to compete with the AMBER Alert system but to compliment it by providing information to volunteer groups, national child-protective organizations, and local and national news media so searchers can find a missing child as soon as possible whether or not an alert is activated.

View this video from  Sgt. Jimmy Giammarinaro , a 16-year veteran of Law Enforcement, to learn more about the need for such a service.

All 50 states now have statewide AMBER Alert plans, creating a network of plans nationwide to aid in the recovery of abducted children.

 

Total Plans Nationwide 120
    Statewide 53
    Regional 29
    Local 38

 

 

So what does that mean? Simply, there is no centralized AMBER Alert registry for your child so that an alert can be activated. You can however proactively register with the Child Alert Center which could shorten the time needed to collect your child’s vital information. Authorities still have to collect the child’s information and determine if their disappearance meets the criteria. Every successful AMBER plan contains clearly defined recommended activation criteria.

Summary of Department of Justice Recommended Criteria

  • There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
  • The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
  • The abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger.
  • The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

AMBER Alerts are issued for abducted children when the situation meets the AMBER Alert criteria. When a child is missing, law enforcement can act swiftly to help recover the child, by developing search and rescue teams or by bringing dogs to the scene to track the scent. AMBER Alert is only one tool that law enforcement can use to find abducted children. AMBER Alerts should be reserved for those cases that meet the AMBER criteria.

Overuse of AMBER Alert could result in the public becoming desensitized to Alerts when they are issued.

Most state’s guidelines adhere closely to Department of Justice  (DOJ) recommended guidelines.

Note: Ninety percent of the 311 AMBER Alert recoveries have occurred since AMBER Alert became a nationally coordinated effort in 2002.