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Amber alert criteria changing in 2017


In May 2015, a 16-month-old boy was abducted when a man carjacked the mother’s vehicle in a hotel parking lot in Romulus, Michigan. That story had a happy ending thanks to alert citizens who heard about the abduction through the AMBER alert system and gave police information.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, up to 4600 children are abducted by strangers every year (about 12 children nationwide every day).

Each year in Michigan, an average of 10 amber alerts are put out for missing children, though not all are for child abductions, according to D/Sgt. Sarah Krebs, of the Michigan State Police. Some are for children with mental or physical disabilities that wandered away or cannot care for themselves.

That changes next month, when, effective, January 1, 2017, AMBER Alerts will only be issued for cases of child abductions, involving victims under the age of 18.

“Any time a child goes missing, it’s an urgent situation and we should all pay attention; however, in the case of child abductions the urgency is even greater,” said Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the MSP. “By tightening the standards for issuing an AMBER Alert we will ensure these alerts are utilized in only the most dire of circumstances to get credible, useful information out to the public in order to bring abducted children home safely.”

The AMBER Alert system was created in 1996 when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. It was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, TX, and then brutally murdered. Other states and communities soon set up their own AMBER plans as the idea was adopted across the nation. Michigan adopted the program in 2001.

According to D/Sgt. Krebs, not all abductions meet the criteria. “Family abductions are more common (than strangers), but they rarely meet the AMBER criteria, as often there are no specific threats to the child, but a custody matter,” she explained.

Krebs also explained why changes were needed in the AMBER alert system. “The criteria was very broad, and many many missing cases fit the criteria that didn’t necessarily need an AMBER alert,” she said.

All AMBER Alerts will receive a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA). A vehicle license plate number is no longer required for a WEA.

Missing child cases that don’t meet the revised AMBER Alert criteria will be eligible for a new notification called an Endangered Missing Advisory, for which there is no age restriction. The Endangered Missing Advisory is a notice sent to broadcast and print media in the geographic area of the incident, but unlike an AMBER Alert, this advisory does not utilize the Emergency Alert System to interrupt broadcasting and it will not be sent to mobile devices as a WEA.

Michigan’s AMBER Alert is a partnership among the MSP, Michigan Association of Broadcasters, Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan Sheriff’s Association and Michigan Department of Transportation.

AMBER Alerts have helped police safely recover 262 missing Michigan children over the years. Last year, of the ten AMBER alerts put out, they safely recovered all but two, who were victims of homicide.

Learn more at www.michigan.gov/AmberAlert.

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