The Amber Alert is a system designed to respond to and find missing children. AMBER is an acronym for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response”. It is a voluntary partnership between different law enforcement, broadcast, and transportation industries to provide an effective network of communication dedicated to finding a missing child.
According to the United States Department of Justice website, Amber Alert has helped rescue 957 children since its conception in 1996 (as of April 2019). The success of the system and effectiveness of how it is implemented has lead many more countries, states and local communities wanting to implement the Amber Alert system around the world including Australia and in Europe. New Child Safety encourages you to take the time to understand what is used in your community and how it works. Many argue that the system remains ineffective; however, we feel it is important to give you this information here on our website so you are better informed. Despite the controversy over whether or not the system is effective or not, a parent faced with a missing child will use any and all things to try and find their child and we feel it is important to educate people about this option.
The criteria for issuing an Amber Alert is to focus on the priority of locating missing children, who are high-risk situations. The initial requirement for the alert to be issued is that law enforcement has a reasonable belief that the abduction has occurred and some details of what happened. Information such as the age of the child, how long the child has been missing and the situation in which the child disappeared would demonstrate that there is cause for alarm and be part of the information that is released.
The second requirement is that law enforcement must believe that the missing child is in impending danger of bodily harm or death. This is often supported by eye-witness accounts of how, where or when the child was taken. Police will assess particular characteristics of the situation such as the manner in which it was done, such as a car pulling over on the street or a child being led away by someone and possible signs that it was against the child’s will. In some instances, there are people who can tell police that the child seemed unwilling to go, was clearly struggling, a child being put into the vehicle that parents or caregivers cannot account for at that particular time.
A third contributing factor is the quality of information to describe the child. This makes it easier for the child to be found. Many Amber Alerts have such details as the age and description of the child, a recent photograph and even details about what the child was wearing or other identifiable things that a parent, caregiver, teacher or friend can provide to police. Any and all information about the alleged kidnapper, such as a physical description, vehicle description, and location are important so both law enforcement and the public have some detail to look for that may identify both the individual(s) and child involved. As a final step, the abducted child’s physical description and other details are included in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. This is the last step to the issuing of an alert, and it enables the details of the kidnapping to be supplied to all AMBER outlets. Finally, the child must be 17 years of age or younger.
Amber alerts can appear on television or aired on the radio, released over satellite radio, public, and cable outlets along with in print locations such as billboards and digital highway signs.
As a parent or caregiver, there are some measures you can put in place to work toward preventing your child from ever getting abducted. This requires constant teaching and role modeling to your child things they can do and not do to reduce the risk.
Teach your child not to ever get into any one’s car without your permission~Sometimes when we think about child abduction we have an image of children being grabbed from the street and although this does happen more often a potential abductor is attempting to lure a child without drawing any attention. By using manipulation and the promise of candy, money, an expensive toy or electronic gadget even the picture of a cute lost puppy are all tactics which may be used to persuade your child. Teach your child that no matter what the promise and no matter how much a situation sounds very bad (lost sick puppy) there is ALWAYS only one answer – NO. The best thing to do is immediately go to a safe place as identified by you with your child and tell an adult right away what has happened. It is not uncommon for a potential abductor to simply move on and look for another child so if the incident is reported right away it may save another child from going missing or even worse.
Explain, show and practice with your child how to move away from vehicles that pull over next to them if they do not recognize the driver~Many cases of abduction involve cars pulling up and the driver rolling down the window to talk to the child. Teach your child how to be aware before the incident even starts to maintain their distance and feel empowered to immediately leave the situation, without explanation. Often we don’t realize as parents how we influence our children that this is a negative thing. Your child may feel it’s rude or they should have more respect for an older adult and not answering the attempt of someone to get their attention is a bad thing. This can be confusing for your child, especially when they are very young. You can role model this behavior in your own neighbourhood while out for a walk, when a car pulls over to your side of the street, use this opportunity to show them how to maintain a safe distance and ask them to think about what they would do if someone they didn’t know in that car wanted to talk to them. Give them actual scenarios such as “What if that person in the blue car over there called you?” and said, “Their puppy was lost and they needed your help right away or the puppy that’s too little to know how to find them could be hungry, hit by a car or lost forever”. I know we’ve all heard this advice or tip before but the important part is to practice with our children.
Provide key messages that you don’t need to be out of your home to have a risky situation. Have them understand how it’s very important to never have them answer the door if they are home alone or awake in the house while other family members may be sleeping~All our children eventually are home alone and before they are ready for this responsibility it is very important to have house rules well established. The same applies to them communicating on the phone, on their cell phone or on the Internet. Teach them to have something ready to say so they are prepared if a caller is on the phone asking for you. Have them understand it’s OK to say, my Dad can’t come to the phone right now, he’s cooking in the kitchen and can’t come to the phone but he can call you back shortly. It is a very scary thought for a parent but we all know that some children are taken from their very own home and we need to help our children learn how to be safe without scaring them or worse having them believe they are always in danger. A few good teaching moments and practicing what to do will empower your child rather than cause them to become fearful of developing their own independence.
Explain to your child how important it is that they do not play in deserted areas or alone in a park or other public place~ Any child in an isolated area can make them a target for kidnappers.
Tribute to Amber Hagerman
The Amber Alert system grew out of the devastating events of January 13th, 1996. Amber and her brother, Ricky were out on a bike ride together that their parents knew about and had given their permission for when her brother returned home alone. Amber was abducted and police notified after a neighbor, who had witnessed the events called the authorities. Amber’s parents worked feverishly for 4 days calling the media, the FBI and searching with others to find Amber. She was found murdered and the person responsible was never found. It took a tremendous amount of work and two years later the beginning of the Amber Alert system was put in place. The system has changed and today many other countries also have an early response system, for example, Canada instituted the program in 2002.