The CHP’s mission is to provide the highest level of safety, service and security to Californians. This is one of the reasons I feel the AMBER Alert system is one of the best plans developed in modern law enforcement history. Some of you might be asking what the AMBER Alert system is or how you can be an active part of the system, so let me tell you how you can save a life.
AMBER stands for America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response. The acronym was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Texas, and then murdered. From this tragedy was born a cooperative effort between law enforcement, broadcasters, transportation agencies and the wireless industry to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. Such a good plan spread like wildfire across the nation and in 2002, it was formally written into California legislation, naming the CHP as the statewide coordinator.
The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly stimulate the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child. Since its inception, AMBER Alert activation has resulted in the rescue or safe finding of over 250 children.
In order to activate the system, a series of clearly defined activation criteria must be met, including:
• A confirmed abduction has occurred, including, but not limited to, a custodial parent or guardian.
• The victim is 17 years of age or younger, or an individual with a proven mental or physical disability.
• The victim is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
• There is information available that, if disseminated to the public, could assist in the safe recovery of the victim.
It is important to note, the system cannot be used for custodial disputes between parents and/or guardians or in runaway cases that do not meet the additional criteria. Those cases will be handled, just not through the AMBER Alert system.
Once the criteria are investigated and confirmed, the AMBER Alert system will be activated. Notifications will go out to the public through numerous resources, including the Emergency Alert System, which can pre-empt radio and television broadcasts. Some of the other assets used to notify the public are the Caltrans changeable message signs on freeways, local AM Highway Advisory Radio channels, CHP internet sites, and social media.
The AMBER Alert system is constantly evolving to take advantage of new technology. For example the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) program allows owners of capable smartphones and feature phones to automatically receive AMBER Alert messages. As another example, the CHP and the California State Lottery Commission have teamed up to display AMBER Alerts anywhere lottery tickets are sold. It’s displayed on digital signs and printed on lottery tickets. In all of these notifications, the message contents will inform you a child abduction has taken place, a description of the vehicle involved and hopefully, the vehicle’s license plate number.
The public plays an essential role in the success of the AMBER Alert. If you witness a child abduction, call 9-1-1 immediately to report it. Try to make note of the physical characteristics of the child and suspect; the make, model, and license plate of any vehicles involved; and the precise location of the abduction (clues might have been left behind for us to find).
If you hear an AMBER Alert, watch for the child, suspect and vehicle. Immediately report any sightings by dialing 9-1-1.
California Highway Patrol officer David Singer’s “On Duty” column publishes bimonthly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.