The AMBER Alert program is an emergency response system established to enable the public to aid in the search for children who are believed to have been abducted and to be in imminent danger. Following the 1996 abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, the Dallas–Fort Worth police and local broadcasters established the first operational AMBER Alert system in 1997. Between 1997 and 2003, local, regional, and statewide voluntary collaborative arrangements between police, transportation authorities, and broadcast media were launched in 41 states.
With the passage of the PROTECT Act in 2003, AMBER Alert formally became a national program overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and coordinated by the Assistant Attorney General. Named in part as a tribute to Amber Hagerman, the acronym AMBER in AMBER Alert actually stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) provides links to the AMBER Alert plans and the public contact representatives for all 50 states. In May 2005, the wireless communication industry and the NCMEC launched a wireless AMBER Alert initiative that allows wireless phone subscribers to opt to receive AMBER alerts on their cellular phones.
Although there are no mandated AMBER Alert criteria, the DOJ has established advisory criteria for the issuance of an alert. These criteria include (a) that law enforcement officials reasonably believe the child has been abducted and is in imminent danger, (b) that the child be age 17 or younger, (c) that there be enough information regarding the abduction that the public could reasonably aid in the recovery of the child, and (d) that the crime be entered and flagged as an abduction in the National Crime Information Center database. When a potential child abduction meets the criteria, police notify broadcast media and transportation authorities who in turn issue emergency alerts over the radio and television airwaves and post notices on electronic highway message boards (traditionally used to alert drivers of accidents, hazards, or road construction ahead). The alerts issued include pertinent information that might aid in the rapid recovery of the child (typically a description of the child and of any vehicle involved in the abduction).
Neither the DOJ nor the NCMEC provide official data on the total number of AMBER alerts issued to date (estimates range from 200 to 250 alerts issued per year), but the agencies do provide data on the successes of the initiative. As of June 2006, the NCMEC Web site attributed 278 successful child recoveries to AMBER Alert systems. According to a mandated annual report to Congress, more than 80% of the successful AMBER recoveries have occurred since the program became a coordinated national effort.
The National AMBER Alert program was passed as part of the PROTECT Act, formally named the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act (Public Law 108-21) signed into law on April 30, 2003, by President George W. Bush. Billed as a comprehensive package of initiatives to protect children, the PROTECT Act included provisions designed to prevent child abuse, abduction, and exploitation. The PROTECT Act also included provisions that expanded prosecutorial powers extending wiretapping authority and curtailing judicial discretion through limiting downward sentencing departures.
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2004). When your child is missing: A family survival guide. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/childismissing/contents.html
- S. Department of Justice. (2004, October). Report to the White House on AMBER Alert. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.amberalert.gov/newsroom/pdfs/04_amber_report.pdf
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: http://www.missingkids.org/Home
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