Excerpt from the PROTECT Act of 2003
Reprinted from the U.S. Government Printing Office Access Web site at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/index.html
"No family should ever have to endure the nightmare of losing a child. Our nation grieves with every family that has suffered unbearable loss. And our nation will fight threats against our children. . . . And now it is my honor to sign the PROTECT Act of 2003." President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) made this statement in the White House Rose Garden immediately before signing into law the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003. The short title of the law, Public Law 108-21, is the PROTECT Act of 2003. The PROTECT Act is the most far reaching child protection legislation signed in decades.
"No child should ever have to experience the terror of abduction, or worse. . . . This law marks important progress in the protection of America's children."
President George W. Bush
Looking on was Donna Hagerman Norris and Elizabeth Smart and her parents. Norris is the mother of Amber Hagerman (1986–1996) who was kidnapped and brutally murdered in 1996. Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom in the middle of the night, but in a rare happy ending, had been found alive and returned to her family. Donna Norris and Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, both had urged passage of PROTECT. They were particularly instrumental in
pressuring Congress for the passage of provisions found in Title 3 of the act known as the AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response) Alert.
The AMBER Alert is the legacy of Amber Hagerman who was nine-years-old when she was abducted and murdered. Amber was riding her bicycle outside her home in Arlington, Texas, a city located between Dallas and Ft. Worth, when in daylight and in full view of witnesses she was abducted. Her body was found four days later at the bottom of a creek bed, her throat slit. Amber's murderer has never been found.
After Amber's death her mother, Donna, began working with local police and the media to create a quick alert system to inform the general public when a child has been abducted. A voluntary association between law enforcement and the Dallas-Ft. Worth Association of Radio Managers resulted in the
nation's first AMBER Alert program in 1997. AMBER stood for America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response. Information about a child's abduction is quickly broadcast to the surrounding communities so the public is on the lookout for the missing child.
The idea and establishment of AMBER Alert programs spread across the country at the end of the 1990s and into the early 2000s. Some states organized statewide AMBER Alert programs while cities and entire metropolitan areas also set up AMBER systems.
AMBER Alerts became increasingly important tools in rescuing kidnapped children. As much information as possible is quickly gathered and broadcast over radio and television stations by way of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to the areas where and near where the abduction took place. The EAS is an updated version of the Emergency Broadcast System originally designed to broadcast national nuclear attack alerts should it become necessary.
In general, an AMBER alert gives a missing child's name and description, description of the abductor, and description and license plate of the suspected car. By getting information out quickly thousands of citizens can join law enforcement in the search. AMBER Alerts have already brought a large percentage of abducted children home safely.
As the number of AMBER programs increased, the need for coordination became apparent. Within the PROTECT Act, the AMBER Alert sections provide a means for national coordination of the "patchwork" of established programs. Under the act an official from the U.S. Department of Justice is assigned as national AMBER Alert coordinator. Although each state and locality is free to set their own guidelines, the national coordinator established a set of minimum standards to apply when deciding to issue an AMBER Alert.
These alert standards, which guide most programs, are as follows: (1) a law enforcement agency confirms an abduction has taken place of a child seventeen years of age or younger; (2) the law enforcement agency believes the child abducted is in danger of bodily harm or death; and, (3) there is enough descriptive information about the child and abductor or the abductor's vehicle that if made available to the public, the public could help in the child's recovery.
An AMBER Alert can only be activated by law enforcement for the most serious abduction cases where the child is in immediate danger. In 2004 AMBER Alerts were issued over radio, television (often on a "crawl" information strip at the bottom of the picture), the Internet, and, if available, on electronic traffic information signs along roadways.
Things to remember while reading excerpts from the PROTECT Act of 2003:
- A quick response is vital to save abducted children from harm. The Department of Justice reports 74 percent of children murdered by their abductors are killed within three hours of being taken.
- Section 301 requires the U.S. attorney general to name a national AMBER Alert coordinator and lists the duties of the national coordinator.
- Section 302 directs the coordinators to establish minimum standards for guidance as to when an AMBER alert should be issued. Although most follow the voluntary standards closely, state and local programs set their own requirements for issuing an alert.
- Section 303 involves the U.S. Department of Transportation's role in the AMBER Alert programs. The section requires the secretary of transportation to provide money grants to states for alert programs, including installation of electronic message signs or other motorist notification systems.
- Section 304 requires the attorney general to provide grants to states to develop support programs such as education and training programs to teach the public about AMBER Alerts and new technologies to aid the program's quick response.
- The following excerpt allows students to read a portion of a law as it is actually organized and worded.
Excerpt from the PROTECT Act of 2003
TITLE III—Public Outreach
SEC. 301. NATIONAL COORDINATION OF AMBER ALERT COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK.
(a) Coordination Within Department of Justice.—The Attorney General shall assign an officer of the Department of Justice to act as the national coordinator of the AMBER Alert communications network regarding abducted children. The officer so designated shall be known as the AMBER Alert Coordinator of the Department of Justice.
(b) Duties.—In acting as the national coordinator of the AMBER Alert communications network, the Coordinator shall—
(1) seek to eliminate gaps in the network, including gaps in areas of interstate travel;
(2) work with States to encourage the development of additional elements (known as local AMBER plans) in the network;
(3) work with States to ensure appropriate regional coordination of various elements of the network; and
(4) act as the nationwide point of contact for—
(a) the development of the network; and
(b) regional coordination of alerts on abducted children through the network.
(c) Consultation With Federal Bureau of Investigation.—In carrying out duties under subsection (b), the Coordinator shall notify and consult with the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning each child abduction for which an alert is issued through the AMBER Alert communications network.
(d) Cooperation.—The Coordinator shall cooperate with the Secretary of Transportation and the Federal Communications Commission in carrying out activities under this section.
(e) Report.—Not later than March 1, 2005, the Coordinator shall submit to Congress a report on the activities of the Coordinator and the effectiveness and status of the AMBER plans of each State that has implemented such a plan. The Coordinator shall prepare the report in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation.
SEC. 302. MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR ISSUANCE AND DISSEMINATION OF ALERTS THROUGH AMBER ALERT COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK.
(a) Establishment of Minimum Standards.—Subject to subsection (b), the AMBER Alert Coordinator of the Department of Justice shall establish minimum standards for—
(1) the issuance of alerts through the AMBER Alert communications network; and
(2) the extent of the dissemination of alerts issued through the network.
(b) Limitations.—(1) The minimum standards established under subsection (a) shall be adoptable on a voluntary basis only.
(2) The minimum standards shall, to the maximum extent practicable (as determined by the Coordinator in consultation with State and local law enforcement agencies), provide that appropriate information relating to the special needs of an abducted child (including health care needs) are disseminated to the appropriate law enforcement, public health, and other public officials.
(3) The minimum standards shall, to the maximum extent practicable (as determined by the Coordinator in consultation with State and local law enforcement agencies), provide that the dissemination of an alert through the AMBER Alert communications network be limited to the geographic areas most likely to facilitate the recovery of the abducted child concerned.
(4) In carrying out activities under subsection (a), the Coordinator may not interfere with the current system of voluntary coordination between local broadcasters and State and local law enforcement agencies for purposes of the AMBER Alert communications network.
(c) Cooperation.—(1) The Coordinator shall cooperate with the Secretary of Transportation and the Federal Communications Commission in carrying out activities under this section.
(2) The Coordinator shall also cooperate with local broadcasters and State and local law enforcement agencies in establishing minimum standards under this section.
SEC. 303. GRANT PROGRAM FOR NOTIFICATION AND COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS ALONG HIGHWAYS FOR RECOVERY OF ABDUCTED CHILDREN.
(a) Program Required.—The Secretary of Transportation shall carry out a program to provide grants to States for the development or enhancement of notification or communications systems along highways for alerts and other information for the recovery of abducted children.
(b) Development Grants.—
(1) In general.—The Secretary may make a grant to a State under this subsection for the development of a State program for the use of changeable message signs or other motorist information systems to notify motorists about abductions of children. The State program shall provide for the planning, coordination, and design of systems, protocols , and message sets that support the coordination and communication necessary to notify motorists about abductions of children. . . .
(c) Implementation Grants.—
(1) In general.—The Secretary may make a grant to a State under this subsection for the implementation of a program for the use of changeable message signs or other motorist information systems to notify motorists about abductions of children. A State shall be eligible for a grant under this subsection if the Secretary determines that the State has developed a State program in accordance with subsection (b). . . .
(d) Federal Share.—The Federal share of the cost of any activities funded by a grant under this section may not exceed 80 percent. . . .
(g) Definition.—In this section, the term "State"' means any of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico.
(h) Authorization of Appropriations .—There is authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary to carry out this section $20,000,000 for fiscal year 2004. Such amounts shall remain available until expended.
(i) Study of State Programs.—
(1) Study.—The Secretary shall conduct a study to examine State barriers to the adoption and implementation of State programs for the use of communications systems along highways for alerts and other information for the recovery of abducted children. . . .
SEC. 304. GRANT PROGRAM FOR SUPPORT OF AMBER ALERT COMMUNICATIONS PLANS.
(a) Program Required.—The Attorney General shall carry out a program to provide grants to States for the development or enhancement of programs and activities for the support of AMBER Alert communications plans.
(b) Activities.—Activities funded by grants under the program under subsection (a) may include—
(1) the development and implementation of education and training programs, and associated materials, relating to AMBER Alert communications plans;
(2) the development and implementation of law enforcement programs, and associated equipment, relating to AMBER Alert communications plans;
(3) the development and implementation of new technologies to improve AMBER Alert communications; and
(4) such other activities as the Attorney General considers appropriate for supporting the AMBER Alert communications program.
(c) Federal Share.—The Federal share of the cost of any activities funded by a grant under the program under subsection (a) may not exceed 50 percent. . . .
(f) Authorization of Appropriations.—(1) There is authorized to be appropriated for the Department of Justice $5,000,000 for fiscal year 2004 to carry out this section and, in addition, $5,000,000 for fiscal year 2004 to carry out subsection (b)(3).
What happened next . . .
In many instances AMBER Alerts have led to the quick rescue of abducted children. At the time of PROTECT's signing (April 30, 2003) forty-one states had established AMBER Alert programs and about forty-nine local and regional programs existed. These numbers were up from sixteen state and thirty-two local and regional programs in August 2002.
Regional plans are plans that cover a larger area than just one city such as the King County AMBER Alert Plan that covers the greater metropolitan Seattle, Washington, area. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, by June 4, 2004, all states except Hawaii had established statewide plans (Hawaii had local plans in both Honolulu and Maui County). Seventeen regional and thirty-two local plans were in operation.
Attorney General John Ashcroft had appointed Deborah J. Daniels, assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice programs, as the first national AMBER Alert Coordinator six months before PROTECT was signed into law. In 2003 and 2004 she was in the process of studying all AMBER plans across the country and coordinating their efforts nationwide. Daniels and her staff developed minimum standards for issuing alerts; developed federal, state, and local partnerships; evaluated improving technologies and their compatibility (ability to work together) with different systems; and developed programs to raise public awareness about abductions.
National advisory member groups contributing to the coordinated AMBER effort included, in addition to the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Transportation, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, broadcasters nationwide, and law enforcement agencies across the country.
President Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001) signed Meghan's Law, also known as Megan's Law, on May 17, 1996. Megan's Law requires registration of convicted sex offenders and notification when a sex offender moves into a community. States are required to register sex offenders and to make public both private and personal information about the offender in the community where the offender lives.
States may establish their own standards for what information is disclosed about an offender. Megan's Law is named after seven-year-old Megan Kanka, who was the victim of a brutal rape and murder in 1994.
Registration and community notification of convicted sex offenders is required because of the high rate of repeat offenses by sex offenders after their release from custody. The government's first interest and responsibility is protection of the public. These interests come before the privacy interests of sex offenders. Registration allows law enforcement to immediately investigate known offenders when a crime is committed. Community notification allows citizens to better protect their children from sex offenders who might have moved into their community.
Did you know . . .
- Canadian provinces have also been establishing AMBER Alert programs in 2003 and 2004.
- In some areas the AMBER system has been used to send alerts about people with Alzheimer's disease or other disabilities who are missing.
- AMBER alerts are generally given for children kidnapped by strangers since statistics show they are in the most serious danger. Child custody abductions and abductions by relatives usually do not qualify for an alert unless the child is likely to suffer physical harm.
- America Online (AOL), the Internet provider, issues AMBER Alerts to subscribers signed up by an AOL Alerts and Reminder service.
- Section 323 of the PROTECT Act created a cyber tip line so online users can report Internet-related child sexual activities.
- Child Abuse Prevention Month is in April of each year, the same month in which PROTECT was signed.
Consider the following . . .
- Rather than being the initiator of AMBER programs throughout the country, the AMBER Alert sections of PROTECT followed and further organized efforts of states and cities. Why do you think the establishment of AMBER programs progressed so rapidly that the federal government found itself having to catch up?
- Research the AMBER Alert program in your state or locality. What guidelines are followed for issuing an alert? How are alerts issued to the public? How successful have they been in safely recovering abducted children?
- What is the key reason for not issuing an AMBER Alert when the abductor is a relative?
So designated: Appointed.
Gaps: Areas where alert communications are lacking.
Elements: Local, regional, and state AMBER plans.
Implemented: Put into use.
Dissemination: Spreading the word of an alert.
Voluntary: The minimum standards are not required but may be used by local and regional plans at their choosing.
Facilitate: Bring about.
Protocols: Detailed plans for communication.
Fiscal year: A twelve month period based on receipt of taxes and other revenues, extending from October 1 to September 30 of the following year.
Barriers: Things that would block or hinder use of the programs.
For More Information
Ramsey, Sarah H., and Douglas E. Adams. Children and the Law in a Nutshell. 2nd ed. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2003.
"AMBER Alert National Strategy." U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/amberalert/AMBERale.pdf (accessed on August 19, 2004).
Beyond Missing, Inc.http://www.beyondmissing.com (accessed on August 19, 2004).
"FCC Consumer Advisory: The Amber Plan." Federal Communications Commission.http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/AMBERPlan.html (accessed on August 19, 2004).
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.http://www.missingkids.com (accessed on August 19, 2004).
PROTECT Act of 2003. U.S. Government Printing Office Access.http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-in/getdoc.cgi?dbname=108_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ021.108 (accessed on August 19, 2004).