Amber Alert Basics

On January 13, 1996 nine year old Amber Hagerman was abducted while riding her bicycle near her home in Arlington, Texas. Four days later her body was found in a ditch about four miles from where she was abducted.

It was later revealed that a neighbor heard Amber scream and actually saw both the kidnapper and the abduction as the perpetrator grabbed her tossed her into his pickup truck. The neighbor called the police and provided a description of the attacker and the vehicle but at that time there was no system in place to distribute this kind of abduction information to the public.

After Amber’s body was found and it was revealed that the police had a credible description of the vehicle used, residents in the Dallas/Fort Worth area got in touch with their local media outlets and recommended they establish some type of public alert system to distribute abduction information and, hopefully, aid in the recovery of these children.

I remember this story. I was pregnant with my first child and we’d just had our first ultrasound about three weeks before Amber’s abduction hit the news. Since we live in central Texas it was big news from the first day. A child was abducted in broad daylight, in plain sight, with witnesses, and the authorities were still unable to save her.

In 1997, the Association of Radio Managers of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, in partnership with local law enforcement agencies, established the first Amber (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert system plan. The acronym was created in honor of the memory of Amber Hagerman.

In 2003 the federal government signed into law the PROTECT Act which included several provisions for creating a national Amber Alert system. There are now systems in place in all 50 states and there is significant cooperation in Canada as well. Each state’s program is slightly different, but they tend to follow the U.S. Department of Justice’s suggested guidelines for establishing an Amber Alert.

The Department of Justice recommends the following criteria be met for an Amber Alert to be issued:

Law enforcement confirmation of an abduction
There is a reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.

Risk of serious bodily injury or death
The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

Sufficient descriptive information
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.

Age of child
The abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger.

NCIC data entry
The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction and AMBER Alert flags, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

Amber Alerts are broadcast via radio, television, and highway signs. They are also broadcast online and over wireless phone networks, but both of these are opt-in processes. I have an Amber Alert ticker on my personal blogs that I downloaded from CodeAmber.org. They also have one that can be unobtrusively run in the background on your Windows desktop.

Statistics show that most children who are abducted and later found dead are killed within the first three hours after their abduction. Amber Alerts help spread the word about abduction faster and to more people and increase the chance of safe recovery of these kids.

For more information on the Amber Alert system, check out some of these sites:

The official Department of Justice site http://www.amberalert.gov/.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children http://www.ncmec.org.

Code Amber.org http://www.codeamber.org