What is an AMBER Alert?

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The AMBER Alert program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies and the wireless industry. The goal is to instantly alert the entire community to assist in the search for a child who is has been abducted and to ensure the safe recovery of the child.

The AMBER Alert is named after Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old girl from Texas who was kidnapped while riding her bike outside of her home. A neighbor who witnessed the crime immediately called the police, but unfortunately, four days later, her body was discovered in a drainage ditch. Her kidnapper was never found.

Amber’s parents went on to establish P.A.S.O. (People Against Sex Offenders), which gathered signatures to help ensure stricter laws regarding the event in which a child is missing. The community contacted radio stations in the Dallas area to suggest special “broadcast alerts” over the airwaves, including the use of the Emergency Alert System to notify the public when a child has been abducted. Dallas law enforcement and local broadcasters created the AMBER Alert program in Amber Hagerman’s honor.

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AMBER stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response Plan”. The program has quickly grown from being just in the Dallas area to having similar programs across the country. In October of 1996, the President Bill Clinton signed the “Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act” which allowed for manual reporting to news stations. Through the help of agencies such as the Child Alert Foundation, the system is now automated.

In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act to support AMBER Alerts and appointed a national AMBER Alert Coordinator. The Act also strengthened law enforcements ability to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish violent crimes committed against children.

To avoid false alerts, the case must meet US Department of Justice criteria. These include the reasonable belief by law enforcement that abduction has occurred and the child is age 17 or younger and in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. There must be enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for the issue of the AMBER alert, and the child’s critical information must be entered into the National Crime Information Center Database.

In 2008, there were 194 AMBER Alerts issued in 36 states involving 256 children. Michigan issued the most alerts (25), with California and Texas issuing 22 each. Girls represented the most cases at 58% of AMBER Alerts issued while the majority of abductors were male. Boys and girls 5 years old and younger represented 53% of the missing child cases. The majority of the children reported in AMBER Alerts in 2008 were white (30%). In most cases, the abductor had a known relationship with the child.

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