By: Nati Harnik
Date: December 11, 2002
Source: AP Images
About the Photographer: Nati Harnik is a photographer for the Associated Press news organization.
The AMBER Alert system is a voluntary partnership between U.S. law enforcement and the media that encourages the public to help find abducted children who may be in imminent danger. AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response Plan. Dallas-Forth Worth broadcasters and law enforcement officials jointly developed the warning system in 1997 in memory of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman. Hagerman was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and brutally murdered. By February 2005, the system had been adopted across the entire United States.
Each state has its own AMBER alert plan and distinct criteria for issuing an alert. However, the U.S. Department of Justice has established some voluntarily guidelines, which suggest than an alert be issued whenever law enforcement concludes that a child age seventeen or younger has been abducted and is danger of being injured or killed. There must be enough descriptive information to create an alert, and the child's name should be entered into the National Crime Information Center database. AMBER alerts should be reserved for the most severe, time-sensitive cases. They are only issued by law enforcement and are not used in the case of runaways. Experts warn that abuse of AMBER alerts could desensitize the community and lead to the program's failure.
When an alert is warranted, descriptions of the child, alleged abductor, and suspected vehicle are quickly distributed to radio and television stations, which interrupt programming with an emergency bulletin similar to those used in the event of severe weather. Alerts can also be posted on the Internet, on lottery tickets, and sent to wireless devices such as cell phones. In some states, the AMBER alert is posted on the electronic highway billboards that normally inform travelers about traffic conditions. People who have information about the child or alleged suspect are asked to immediately call 911 or the telephone number posted with the alert.
On December 11, 2002, nine-month-old Brodjinique Dunn was kidnapped when the car she was riding in was stolen from a gas station. Nebraska issued its first-ever AMBER Alert in response, with messages being broadcast through the media and posted on highway signs. Iowa law enforcement also issued an alert. The car was found, parked, less than two hours later. Brodjinique was unharmed.
See primary source image.
Time is of the essence when a child is abducted. U.S. Department of Justice data suggest that the majority of children who are abducted and killed die within the first three hours of the kidnapping. The goal of the AMBER alert system is to quickly rouse the community so that the child and alleged abductor are found as soon as possible. Since the program's introduction in 1997, more than 240 children have been safely recovered. The majority of those recoveries occurred after President George W. Bush called for a nationally coordinated effort during the first White House conference on missing, exploited, and runaway children. His administration later appointed Regina B. Schofield as the first national AMBER Alert Coordinator. On April 30, 2003, President Bush signed into law the PROTECT Act. This legislation strengthened laws regarding crimes committed against children, helped facilitate AMBER alert notification and communication systems along U.S. highways, and formally established the national AMBER Alert Coordinator role in the U.S. Department of Justice.
A nationally coordinated effort, widespread interstate use of AMBER alerts, and on-going AMBER alert training conferences have made a dramatic impact on the number of abducted children who are safely recovered. In 2001, two children were safely returned as a result of the AMBER alert system. In 2004, AMBER alerts lead to the safe recovery of seventy-one children. The AMBER alert system is now considered to be one of the most effective tools used to protect America's children.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. 〈http://www.missingkids.com〉 (accessed February 2, 2006).
U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. "Amber Alert." 〈http://www.amberalert.gov〉 (accessed February 2, 2006).