No one wants to think about the horror of a missing or abducted child, but sadly, it is a reality that cannot be ignored. Thankfully, the AMBER Alert system was created to directly respond to this situation in the United States of America, and it has seen excellent results.
In short, an AMBER alert uses an already established network of systems, including radio, television, and updatable electronic signs on major highways. So to put it another way, any American, regardless oh whatever they are doing, whether it might be watching TV, or are on the road, should be alerted to the situation.
But how did the AMBER alert originate, how is it implemented, and exactly how much success does it actually see? More importantly, what are the chances that a child is recovered after the system has been kicked into high gear?
Missing Children Statistics
Before understanding the AMBER Alert, it is first important to understand the reality of missing children statistics. Having a child abducted is a parent’s greatest fear, making them hyper aware of the potential. But just how likely is it to really happen?
Roughly 800,000 children are reported missing in the United States on a yearly basis. This breaks down to roughly 2,000 a day. It seems like an astonishingly high number. But, a closer look at this number is needed in order to properly understand the reality. Only a third of that number is normally an actual kidnapping. In the other cases, the child has simply got lost, run away, or a parent has panicked and called in a false report, which is quickly resolved.
So, kidnappings account for around 666 of the 2,000 daily cases. But breaking it down further, one fifth of those kidnapping numbers can be attributed to a person who isn’t a family member. So in total, around 133 actual abductions occur a day in the whole of the United States, which aren’t the result of someone who is directly related to the child. These numbers are according to the US Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. A further statistic is that of those who are actually taken, around 56% are quickly recovered using the AMBER Alert.
The Development Of A System
In Arlington, Texas, in 1996, a horrifying tragedy unfolded. 9 year old Amber Hagerman was riding her bike when a neighbour heard the little girl screaming, and ran out in time to see her getting pulled off her bike, and thrown into the front seat of a truck. Authorities sprang into action, but sadly the results were not positive. The body of the girl was found in a ditch four days later, and the response from the public was understandable outrage. This kidnapping and murder was never solved.
What it did result in, however, was the birth of the AMBER Alert. In the Dallas and Fort Worth area radio managers came together to create a fast, reliable network, capable of getting information out to the public as quickly as possible. This system is used to not only inform the public of what has occurred, but to update law enforcement divisions across the country, and various other media outlets.
The system went into practice in July 1997, with radio stations being the first to become active. Television stations followed suit in 1999.
The Crucial Hours
According to law enforcement and criminal experts, the first few hours after a child has been abducted are the most important. After the first few hours, sadly, the abductor has the opportunity to get the victim further and further away from the original kidnapping zone, making recovery drastically more challenging. This is the main reason that the AMBER Alert is so important.
The speed at which the message is spread is not just important, but often the difference between the child ever being found. Another troubling statistic from the Department of Justice makes this clearer; 74% of children who are abducted and later murdered, are killed within the first few hours of the abduction occurring.
A Plan In Action
As it stands, AMBER Alerts have significantly evolved since their first inception. There are now 90 different plans across multiple states, each based on the nature of the case. But these are the typical steps of how an alert occurs:
- Law enforcement must confirm the nature of the case. An AMBER Alert is not used in the case of a child simply running away of their own accord. A different method is used to deal with this occurrence.
- A list of criteria must be met in order for the Alert to be issued. Namely if the child is under 18, and is facing a real risk of being harmed.
- Information is collected, including the child’s appearance and any details about the abductor.
- Broadcast media is contacted and informed of the details.
- Media goes live, interrupting any other broadcasting.
- The Department of Transportation is informed, and information is relayed to electronic billboards.
The messages are repeated until a conclusion is reached.
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