- Published on Tuesday, 14 August 2012 16:10
Recent case highlights requirements for issuing official alert
Daily Elk Citian
The recent case of a missing Elk City girl has raised eyebrows about what exactly constitutes the raising of an AMBER Alert.
When a 13-year-old girl left town with a 20-something man last month, the Elk City Police declined to issue an AMBER Alert and instead said the girl was "missing and endangered." Several readers asked why an official alert was not issued.
The criteria a local police department must follow in issuing an alert is very strict. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, who maintains information about the nationwide partnership between law enforcement agencies, a child must have to have been abducted and is at risk of serious bodily injury or death.
The investigating agency must also consider whether they have enough information before issuing the alert.
"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," a U.S. Department of Justice report states.
In fact, many of the guidelines listed by the federal government are put in place for that very reason – to reduce the number of unnecessary AMBER Alerts and therefore make each occurrence more important.
The alerts can only be issued upon the abduction of a person 17 years of age or younger, the guidelines state.
"It's got to match certain things or it gets downgraded" to other categories, said Lt. Shawn Tuck of the Elk City Police Department.
If those four guidelines are met – abduction, serious risk, sufficient information and the correct age – an AMBER Alert can then be issued. At that point, the law enforcement agency investigating the abduction must enter the data into the National Crime Information Center system, or NCIS. In Elk City, the dispatch officer handles that part of the reporting system.
"I just provide them what I have," Tuck said.
When that happens, and an official AMBER Alert is issued, the gears begin to rotate as law enforcement notifies broadcasters and state transportation officials. The alerts interrupt regular broadcasting on radio and television, and the information about the time of abduction, method of travel and descriptive information about the subjects can also be displayed on electronic road signs.
According to the Justice Department, AMBER Alerts can also be displayed on lottery ticket machines and sent to cell phones and email addresses of those who request updates.
Click here for more detailed guidelines about when authorities can issue an AMBER Alert.