Rest assured, the Amber Alert system is by far the best public resource available to broadcast the disappearance of a missing or abducted child. There is no disputing this fact. However, often when a child goes missing there is a delay in an Amber Alert being issued, leaving many to wonder why. Rightly so. Every minute counts when a child is feared missing, the eminent dangers that too frequently claim young lives hang heavy in the minds of all concerned. So why the delay?
Every successful AMBER plan contains clearly defined activation criteria. The guidelines are designed to achieve a uniform network of plans across the country and to minimize potentially deadly delays because of confusion among varying jurisdictions.
–Law Enforcement Confirms an Abduction
AMBER plans require law enforcement to confirm an abduction prior to issuing an alert. This is essential when determining the level of risk to the child. Clearly, stranger abductions are the most dangerous for children and are primary to the mission of an AMBER Alert. To allow activations in the absence of significant information that an abduction has occurred could lead to abuse of the system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness. At the same time, each case must be appraised on its own merits and a judgment call made quickly. Law enforcement must understand that a “best judgment” approach, based on the evidence, is appropriate and necessary.
–Risk of Serious Bodily Injury or Death
Plans require a child be at risk for serious bodily harm or death before an alert can be issued. This element is clearly related to law enforcement’s recognition that stranger abductions represent the greatest danger to children. The need for timely, accurate information based on strict and clearly understood criteria is critical, again keeping in mind the “best judgment” approach.
—SUFFICIENT DESCRIPTIVE INFORMATION
This is by far the most compelling and most easily remedied of all Amber Alert criteria!
For an AMBER Alert to be effective in recovering a missing child, the law enforcement agency must have enough detailed information to believe that an immediate broadcast to the public will enhance the efforts of law enforcement to locate the child and apprehend the suspect. This element requires as much descriptive information as possible about the abducted child–there is more Amber Alert criteria to add here, but we are pausing on this crucial point for a very specific reason–This is something every parent can be proactive and acquire in the form of a CHILD ID.
If nothing more, having a current photograph is the single most important recovery tool according to the NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). Imagine having multiple photographs depicting unique identifying characteristics, digital fingerprints and vital details (height, weight, distinguishing marks, hair and eye color, etc.) on an Amber Alert compatible CD that gives authorities all the imperative information that is needed AND information that can be uploaded into the Amber Alert system in seconds rather than the time it takes to assemble and manually enter similar information–this is the peace of mind MoCHIP provides parents.
The MoCHIP Amber Alert compatible CD can be updated regularly at any MoCHIP event so that your child’s information remains current. MoCHIP also provides a DNA dental impression and this along with the CD is placed inside a pre-printed envelope that instructs authorities on how to use the contents, something a parent in crisis would undoubtedly have trouble with, and a proactive measure to further combat the time sensitivity involved in recovery.
Sufficient Descriptive Information continued…
This element requires as much descriptive information as possible about the abducted child and the abduction, as well as descriptive information about the suspect and the suspect’s vehicle. Issuing alerts in the absence of significant information that an abduction has occurred could lead to abuse of the system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness.
–Age of Child
Every state adopt the “17 years of age or younger” standard; or, at a minimum, agree to honor the request of any other state to issue an AMBER Alert, even if the case does not meet the responding state’s age criterion, as long as it meets the age criterion of the requesting state. Most AMBER plans call for activation of the alert for children under a certain age. The problem is that age can vary—some plans specify 10, some 12, some 14, 15, and 16. Differences in age requirements create confusion when an activation requires multiple alerts across states and jurisdictions. Overuse of the AMBER Alert system will undermine its effectiveness as a tool for recovering abducted children.
–NCIC Data Entry
Immediately enter AMBER Alert data into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. Text information describing the circumstances surrounding the abduction of the child should be entered, and the case flagged as a Child Abduction. Many plans do not mandate entry of the data into NCIC, but this omission undermines the entire mission of the AMBER Alert initiative. The notation on the entry should be sufficient to explain the circumstances of the disappearance of the child. Entry of the alert data into NCIC expands the search for an abducted child from the local, state, or regional level to the national. This is a critical element of any effective AMBER Alert plan.