Frequently asked questions on Amber Alert

Where and why did AMBER Alert first start?
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. AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and then brutally murdered. Other states and communities soon set up their own AMBER plans as the idea was adopted across the nation.

How does it work?
Once law enforcement has determined that a child has been abducted and the abduction meets AMBER Alert criteria, law enforcement notifies broadcasters and state transportation officials. AMBER Alerts interrupt regular programming and are broadcast on radio and television and on highway signs. AMBER Alerts can also be issued on lottery tickets, to wireless devices such as mobile phones, and over the Internet. Through the coordination of local, state and regional plans, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is working towards the creation of a seamless national network.

How effective has it been?
AMBER Alert has been very effective. AMBER Alert programs have helped save the lives of over 200 children nationwide.

Over 84 percent of those recoveries have occurred since October 2002 when President Bush called for the appointment of an AMBER Alert Coordinator at the first-ever White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children

AMBER Alerts serve as deterrents to those who would prey upon our children. AMBER Alert cases have shown that some perpetrators release the abducted child after hearing the AMBER Alert on the radio or seeing it on television.

Who is the National Coordinator for AMBER Alert and what is the Coordinator's role?
Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, is the National AMBER Alert Coordinator. Her Coordinator role is to facilitate AMBER network development, support the development of state AMBER plans and efforts, help eliminate geographic gaps in AMBER networks, provide regional AMBER network coordination and provide guidance on criteria for issuing an AMBER Alert.

Now that all 50 states have AMBER Alert plans, how does this help children and families?
The establishment of AMBER Alert plans in all 50 states marks an important milestone in our efforts to prevent child abductions. No matter where a child is abducted, communities and law enforcement work together to recover missing children quickly and safely. The numbers of recovered children speak for themselves. In 2001, only two children were recovered due to AMBER Alert. In 2004, 71 children were recovered due to an AMBER Alert. Interstate expansion is making a difference in saving children's lives.

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, calls for the Department of Justice to issue minimum standards or guidelines for AMBER Alerts that states can adopt voluntarily. The Department's Guidance on Criteria for Issuing AMBER Alerts follows:

  • 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 into the 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 the DOJ's recommended guidelines.

How are AMBER Alert appropriations spent?
To date, the Department of Justice has utilized almost $12 million of appropriated funds to create a national network and provide the states and territories with training and technical assistance to develop and enhance their AMBER Alert plans.

Have there been any successes or failures of the AMBER Alert system?
Everyone from law enforcement to government to broadcasters has worked very hard to make the AMBER Alert program a success. Although there is much work left to do, the progress made has been significant. All 50 states now have AMBER Alert plans and over 200 children have been recovered due to the AMBER Alert. The Department of Justice held the first ever National AMBER Alert Training conference in 2003, the second in 2004 and has held over 30 regional training conferences. The Department of Justice is now holding localized training for law enforcement nationwide to familiarize them with the AMBER Alert.

Can AMBER Alerts be issued across state and jurisdictional lines?
Absolutely. Many states have formal memorandums of understanding with other states and there are currently 27 regional plans. If law enforcement has reason to believe that the child has been taken across state lines, the AMBER state coordinator will ask that state to issue an alert. This happened when a boy from a Chicago suburb was abducted. Law enforcement had reason to believe the child was in Indiana and then taken to California. In both instances Indiana and California issued an alert at Illinois= request. The child was recovered in California. Many states have informal agreements with other states to issue AMBER Alerts upon request.

Are AMBER Alerts issued for all missing children?
AMBER Alerts are issued for abducted children when the situation meets the AMBER Alert criteria. Some children wander away in a crowded grocery store, others might run off after a heated argument. 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 for example. 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.

Posted 1:03pm by Bryce Mursch