The Amber Alert System is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an Amber Alert is to galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child. AMBER is officially an acronym for “America’s Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response” but was originally named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old child who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas in 1996.
Public information in an Amber Alert usually consists of the name and description of the abductees, a description of the suspected abductor, and a description and license plate number of the abductor’s vehicle, if available. Alerts are distributed via commercial radio stations, satellite radio, television stations, weather radio, e-mail, electronic traffic-condition signs and LED/LCD signs of billboard companies.
Each state’s Amber Alert plan sets its own criteria for activation. There are differences between alerting agencies as to which incidents justify the use of the system. However, the U.S. Department of Justice issues the following guidance, which most states adhere to:
- Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place;
- The child must be at risk of serious injury or death;
- There must be sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor’s vehicle to issue an alert; and
- The child must be 17 years old or younger.
The Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act, signed into law on April 30, 2003, comprehensively strengthened law enforcement’s ability to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish violent crimes committed against children. The Protect Act codified the national Amber Alert coordinator role in the Department of Justice.