The Amber alert system came into fruition after the kidnapping and brutal murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped in Arlington Texas while riding her bike on January 13, 1989. A neighbor who heard Amber scream called the police and was able to provide officers with a detailed description of the kidnapper's truck. Unfortunately there was little the police could do to help Amber unless a police officer saw the truck.
Four days later, Amber’s lifeless body was recovered. She was located less than four miles from where her kidnapper grabbed her off her bike. Amber Hagerman’s murder is remains unsolved, and that means a child killer remains unidentified and has not been held unaccountable for his or her horrific actions.
If anything constructive can come out of something as evil as the kidnapping and murder of a beautiful and innocent child, it would have to be the Amber Alert System. The Amber Alert was founded in direct relation to Amber's abduction and murder. After Amber's kidnapping and murder the people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area wondered why this had to happen and inquired on how the public could help when a child has been abducted. Radio broadcasters and radio stations jumped into action and began developing a way to notify radio listeners when a child was kidnapped.
The Amber Alert system that was developed in the Dallas and Fort Worth area in 1996 and 1997 is strikingly similar to the Emergency Broadcast System. When an Amber Alert is activated by law enforcement the pertinent details of the child's kidnapping is announced over the radio waves. This allows the people listening to the radio to help police officers look for the abducted child, the kidnapper, and the vehicle used. During an Amber Alert radio stations would continue to broadcast the information repeatedly either until the child was located or police officers cancelled the Amber Alert.
Initially the Amber Alert program got off to a slow start and according to the Department of Justice (DOJ) website, “only 4 states were active with statewide Amber Alert plans in 2001”. Then in 2002 the Amber Alert program gained national focus after assistant Attorney General Deborah J. Daniels was appointed the first National Amber Alert Coordinator. Her job was to help facilitate guidelines for the program on a national level. In 2003, President Bush signed into law the Project Act which strengthened law enforcements ability to investigate and prosecute people committing violent crimes against children.
Sadly, even though the Amber Alert Program is a national program many states continue to struggle with outdated emergency broadcast systems and ways to implement the proper procedures necessary to make the Amber Alert program truly successful. Many states have experienced difficulties defining the criteria to be used to activate an Amber Alert. For instance, when a child’s abduction is witnessed it is universal criteria to activate the Amber alert system, yet what the child who is kidnapped and there is no witness?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) recommends law enforcement consider three criteria before activating an Amber Alert. First, police must be able to confirm the child has been a victim of kidnapping. Second, the police believe the missing child is in grave danger of physical harm. Third, police must have detailed information about the child, the kidnapper, and the vehicle or means used to kidnap the child.
Besides the kidnapper, time is the worst enemy an abducted child faces and the Amber Alert system offers a child hope. An Amber Alert multiplies the people looking for an abducted child. Anyone in the community could spot the missing child, the abductor, or the abductor’s vehicle. If the child, abductor, or vehicle is observed always call 911 immediately and report the sighting. Never approach the kidnapper as he or she may have a weapon and that could place the child in even greater danger.
The Amber Alert system does work and according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) "over 450 children have been recovered".