Understanding Amber Alerts

Friday is National Amber Alert Day.  Law enforcement officials across the nation are recognizing the importance of the Amber Alert System, which is a high-speed, high-tech way of alerting the public when a child has been abducted. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, there’s been some misunderstanding about the criteria that must be met before the alert can go out.

By Jennifer Moore (KSMU)

Captain Tim Hull is a spokesman for the Highway Patrol.  He says Missouri’s stringent criteria for issuing an Amber Alert match those of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.   Those criteria are very specific, because the Highway Patrol has varied responses for different situations. Hull says not all missing children cases qualify for Amber Alerts.

 “The Amber Alert activation criteria are:  the law enforcement investigating the missing child must confirm that the child has been abducted, that’s one.  Two:  the child must be aged 17 years or younger.  And law enforcement must believe that the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death,” Hull said.

The fourth and final criteria, Hull said, is that there has to be enough descriptive information about the child, the abductor, and the vehicle for an Amber Alert to help recover the child.

This usually does not apply to a non-custodial parent being late, or even refusing to return his or her child—because in those cases, the child is usually not in harm’s way. For that, there’s another advisory called an EPA—and Endangered Persons Advisory.  An EPA alerts the media as well, but it’s not as immediate as an Amber Alert.

 “If we did an Amber Alert for every child who was missing, or every situation where a non-custodial parent didn’t return a child, people would become immune to hearing Amber Alerts, and they would just not be effective,” Hull said.

And they have been more than a little effective, he says:  Missouri has a 100 percent recovery rate of children whose abductions were highlighted as Amber Alerts. Since 2003, that’s 47 kids.

AMBER, which stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, was adopted as a legacy to Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old girl from Texas who was kidnapped while riding her bike in Texas, then murdered.

The Highway Patrol reminds Missourians that if they suspect a child has been abducted, they should call 9-1-1.