Amber Alert Case Study


How Thomson Reuters CLEAR online investigation software
helped Detroit police find an abducted child

Ask any police officer: they’ll tell you that speed means everything in an investigation where you’re racing against the clock. The more hours spent chasing dead-end leads, the more dangerous a life-or-death situation becomes.

An Amber Alert case in Detroit on November 15, 2016, shows that in time-critical situations, local police need up-to-date, in-depth information to make the right decisions. When the stakes are high – in this case, with the life of an infant at stake – it’s important for all types of public safety officials to have the tools at their disposal to make correct calls when there is no time for errors.

Abduction and first response

The case involved an 11-month-old child who had been placed into foster care. The birth mother was not allowed unsupervised visits with the child. She and the foster mother were together at a doctor’s appointment in a local hospital at approximately 2 PM that day – the child has sickle cell anemia and needs regular medical treatment. The birth mother then asked the foster mother to drop her off around the intersection of Sanilac St. and Moross Rd. in Detroit, near Interstate 94. When the birth mother went into the back seat to say goodbye to the child, she instead grabbed the infant and fled on foot down the street.

The foster mother chased after the birth mother but soon lost sight of her. After she called 911, officers from the 9th Precinct arrived at the scene. They realized that it was a time-sensitive missing person issue, for reasons including the child’s young age and medical condition – she required medication twice a day. And the foster mother believed that the biological mother didn’t have the medication.

Police canvassed the nearby area, started interviewing known associates of the birth mother, and an Amber Alert was issued around 5 PM. Around that time, Sergeant Jason Sloan was contacted as part of a broadening investigation that was bringing in state and federal law enforcement units. “We started to search the area based on information we could receive from anything – police reports filed, family members, old addresses. We began to run everything to ground the best that we could, in an attempt to locate her,” he said.

How the Detroit Police Department used CLEAR to locate the suspect

As Sergeant Sloan pulled every report that the police department had in relation to the mother, CLEAR provided him with numerous past addresses, some of which were included on utility bills in the birth mother’s name. Police officers began working any addresses they received, going house by house.

The big break came when a 9th Precinct Sergeant told Sergeant Sloan that he’d been in prior contact with the birth mother as part of the foster care situation, and that she had called him via a cell phone. Entering that phone number into CLEAR turned up an unfamiliar name and an address. Sergeant Sloan had a gut feeling that it could be a valuable lead.

Sergeant Sloan and Officer Bolden made their way to the previously unknown address, which was on the East Side of Detroit. “We thought it would be the best address to start with,” Officer Bolden said. While the police scanner was calling out various addresses for officers to investigate, “we had a feeling that this was the house we should go to first.”

Resolving the situation

At the door, the officers met a distraught young woman who, when asked if the birth mother was there, “looked down and exhaled,” Sergeant Sloan said. “I knew then [she] was in the house.” The young woman allowed the officers to enter.

The situation was still fluid and potentially risky. Sergeant Sloan and Officer Bolden were the only officers in the building at the time. The mother was in an upstairs bedroom with her back against the door, and other young men were in the room as well. Sergeant Sloan and Officer Bolden entered the bedroom to find the mother holding the child to her chest, but the officers couldn’t tell if the child was breathing. While they knew that the child had been taken from a medical center, they did not know the particulars of the infant’s medical condition.

Using de-escalation techniques to calm everyone in the room, the officers managed to get the mother downstairs into the living room, where the officers felt more secure. “We wanted to get to a safe spot within the home,” Officer Bolden said.

EMS and backup police soon arrived. Once EMS responders convinced the birth mother to let them examine the baby, they moved the child from the residence to the EMS vehicle. The child was immediately transported to the area hospital, was administered her medication, and was released back to the foster mother. At the same time, officers placed the birth mother into custody. (She would later be charged with one count of kidnapping - child enticement.)

All told, it was roughly seven hours from the child’s abduction to her rescue, which occurred around 10 PM. The Detroit Police Department believes their quick response may not have happened without CLEAR. “There’s no doubt in my mind that CLEAR made it possible in this case to get the job done, to locate the baby, to get medical treatment and attention,” Sergeant Sloan said. “I don’t know if there’s another source that would have gotten us to where we needed to be.”

CLEAR: Having the right tools

The Detroit Police Department began using CLEAR only a few months before the abduction, in August 2016. They had been using other databases prior to this, but Sergeant Sloan said the difference has been substantial in terms of the quality of information the department now receives.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, CLEAR is hands-down the best database we have. It’s the most up-to-date, especially as it relates to cell phones and subscriber information,” he said. “Content and accuracy are what’s most important. Information that’s six years old or even months old isn’t good enough. We need things up to date now; that’s what saves lives.”

What Officer Bolden likes about CLEAR is the variety of information it provides him, allowing him to pursue avenues of investigation that he may not have considered otherwise. For instance, CLEAR lists a great variety of possible related contacts to a suspect. “That works for me – maybe their school friends are still around,” he said. “Every bit of information helps me that much more. That night, CLEAR did that for us.”

For Chief of Police James Craig, CLEAR lets his force to do more with less. Where the Detroit Police Department once had around 5,500 officers, the force now roughly stands at 2,500. “In order to be as effective as we are, we need to move quickly, especially if a life depends on it,” he said. “When you look at this situation and how quickly our investigators were able to get the information and get it out, that mattered. There’s no doubt that the accurate and timely data that Sergeant Sloan had at his disposal was a reason that a life was saved. Had it not been for CLEAR, who knows what we would be talking about now.”

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Powered by real-time gateways and a network of current and historical data, CLEAR combines vast collections of public records information to build links between people and businesses. Users can be more efficient in investigative searching by filtering unnecessary data by date range, age, and other critical fact distinctions, as well as through CLEAR entity resolution, which consolidates and deduplicates search results – delivering the most relevant information for easy review.

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An AMBER Alert or a Child Abduction Emergency (SAME code: CAE) is a child abduction alert system. It originated in the United States in 1996.

AMBER is officially a contrived acronym for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, but was named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas in 1996. Alternative regional alert names were once used; in Georgia, "Levi's Call"[1] (in memory of Levi Frady); in Hawaii, "Maile Amber Alert"[2] (in memory of Maile Gilbert); and Arkansas, "Morgan Nick Amber Alert"[3] (in memory of Morgan Nick).

In the United States, AMBER Alerts are distributed via commercial radio stations, Internet radio, satellite radio, television stations, and cable TV by the Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio[4][5] (where they are termed "Child Abduction Emergency" or "Amber Alerts"). The alerts are also issued via e-mail, electronic traffic-condition signs, commercial electronic billboards,[6][7] or through wireless device SMS text messages. AMBER Alert has also teamed up with Google,[8]Bing,[9] and Facebook[10] to relay information regarding an AMBER Alert to an ever-growing demographic: AMBER Alerts are automatically displayed if citizens search or use map features on Google or Bing. With the Google Child Alert (also called Google AMBER Alert in some countries), citizens see an AMBER Alert if they search for related information in a particular location where a child has recently been abducted and an alert was issued. This is a component of the AMBER Alert system that is already active in the US (there are also developments in Europe). Those interested in subscribing to receive AMBER Alerts in their area via SMS messages can visit Wireless Amber Alerts, which are offered by law as free messages.[11] In some states, the display scrollboards in front of lottery terminals are also used.

The decision to declare an AMBER Alert is made by each police organization (in many cases, the state police or highway patrol) that investigates each of the abductions. Public information in an AMBER Alert usually consists of the name and description of the abductee, a description of the suspected abductor, and a description and license plate number of the abductor's vehicle if available.

Activation criteria[edit]

The alerts are broadcast using the Emergency Alert System, which had previously been used primarily for weather bulletins, civil emergencies, or national emergencies.[12] Alerts usually contain a description of the child and of the likely abductor.[13] To avoid both false alarms and having alerts ignored as a "wolf cry", the criteria for issuing an alert are rather strict. Each state's or province's AMBER alert plan sets its own criteria for activation, meaning that there are differences between alerting agencies as to which incidents are considered to justify the use of the system. However, the U.S. Department of Justice issues the following "guidance", which most states are said to "adhere closely to" (in the U.S.):[14]

  1. Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place.
  2. The child must be at risk of serious injury or death.
  3. There must be sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor's vehicle to issue an alert.
  4. The child must be under 18 years of age.[15]

Many law enforcement agencies have not used #2 as a criterion, resulting in many parental abductions triggering an Amber Alert, where the child is not known or assumed to be at risk of serious injury or death. In 2013, West Virginia passed Skylar's Law to eliminate #1 as a criterion for triggering an Amber Alert.

It is recommended that AMBER Alert data immediately be entered into the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Crime Information Center. Text information describing the circumstances surrounding the abduction of the child should be entered, and the case flagged as child abduction.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police's (RCMP) requirements in Canada are nearly identical to the above list, with the exception that the RCMP instead of the FBI is normally notified.[16] One organization might notify the other if there is reason to suspect that the border may be crossed.

When investigators believe that a child is in danger of being taken across the border to either Canada or Mexico, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, United States Border Patrol and the Canada Border Services Agency are notified and are expected to search every car coming through a border checkpoint. If the child is suspected to be taken to Canada, a Canadian Amber Alert can also be issued, and a pursuit by Canadian authorities usually follows.

Incidents not meeting alert criteria[edit]

For incidents which do not meet AMBER Alert criteria, the United States Department of Justice developed the Child Abduction Response Teams (CART) program to assist local agencies. This program can be used in all missing children's cases and can be used as part of an AMBER alert or when an abduction or disappearance does not meet AMBER Alert criteria. CART can also be used to help recover runaway children under the age of 18 and who are in danger. As of 2010, 225 response teams have been trained in 43 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Canada.[17]

Amber Hagerman[edit]

Amber Hagerman

Amber Hagerman in 1994

BornAmber Rene Hagerman
(1986-11-25)November 25, 1986
Arlington, Texas, US
DiedBetween January 15–17, 1996 (age 9)
Arlington, Texas, US
Cause of deathMurder—Slit Throat
Parent(s)Donna Norris (mother)
Richard Hagerman (father)

On January 13, 1996 nine-year-old Amber Rene Hagerman (November 25, 1986 – January 17, 1996) was abducted while riding her bike with her brother in Arlington, Texas.[18] A neighbor who witnessed the abduction called the police, and Amber's brother, Ricky, went home to tell his mother and grandparents what happened. On hearing the news, Hagerman's father, Richard, called Marc Klaas, whose daughter, Polly, had been abducted and murdered in Petaluma, California, on October 1, 1993. It is often believed[by whom?] that Hagerman's murderer kept her alive for at least two days. Richard and Amber's mother, Donna Whitson (now Donna Norris), called the news media and the FBI. They and their neighbors began searching for Amber. Four days after the abduction, near midnight, her body was found in a creek behind an apartment complex – with cut wounds to her neck. The site of the discovery was less than five miles from where she went missing. There are no suspects to her abduction and homicide.[19]

Program development[edit]

Within days of Amber's death, Donna Whitson was "calling for tougher laws governing kidnappers and sex offenders".[20] Amber's parents soon established People Against Sex Offenders (P.A.S.O.). They collected signatures hoping to force the Texas Legislature into passing more stringent laws to protect children.[citation needed]

God's Place International Church donated the first office space for the organization, and as the search for Amber's killer continued, P.A.S.O. received almost-daily coverage in local media. Companies donated various office supplies, including computer and Internet service. Congressman Martin Frost, with the help of Marc Klaas, drafted the Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act. Both of Hagerman's parents were present when President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law, creating the national sex offender registry. Whitson and Richard Hagerman then began collecting signatures in Texas, which they planned to present to then-Governor George W. Bush as a sign that people wanted more stringent laws for sex offenders.[21]

In July 1996, Bruce Seybert[clarification needed] and Richard Hagerman attended a media symposium in Arlington. Although Hagerman had remarks prepared, on the day of the event the organizers asked Seybert to speak instead. In his 20-minute speech, he spoke about efforts that local police could take quickly to help find missing children and how the media could facilitate those efforts. C.J. Wheeler, a reporter from radio station KRLD, approached the Dallas police chief shortly afterward with Seybert's ideas and launched the first ever Amber Alert.[22]

Whitson testified in front of the U.S. Congress in June 1996, asking legislators to create a nationwide registry of sex offenders. Representative Martin Frost, the Congressman who represents Whitson's district, proposed an "Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act." Among the sections of the bill was one that would create a national sex offender registry.[23]

For the next two years, alerts were made manually to participating radio stations. In 1998, the Child Alert Foundation created the first fully automated Alert Notification System (ANS) to notify surrounding communities when a child was reported missing or abducted. Alerts were sent to radio stations as originally requested but included television stations, surrounding law enforcement agencies, newspapers and local support organizations. These alerts were sent all at once via pagers, faxes, emails, and cell phones with the information immediately posted on the Internet for the general public to view.[citation needed]

Following the automation of the AMBER Alert with ANS technology created by the Child Alert Foundation, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) expanded its role in 2002 to promote the AMBER Alert, although in 1996 now CEO of the NCMEC declined to come in and further assist the AMBER Alert when asked to by Bruce Seybert and Richard Hagerman and has since worked actively to see alerts distributed using the nation's existing emergency radio and TV response network.[citation needed]

International adoption[edit]

United States[edit]

In October 2000, the United States House of Representatives adopted H.Res. 605 which encouraged communities nationwide to implement the AMBER Plan. In October 2001, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that had declined to be a part of the Amber Alert in February 1996, launched a campaign to have AMBER Alert systems established nationwide. In February 2002, the Federal Communications Commission officially endorsed the system. In 2002, several children were abducted in cases that drew national attention. One such case, the kidnapping and murder of Samantha Runnion, prompted California to establish an AMBER Alert system on July 24, 2002.[12] According to Senator Dianne Feinstein, in its first month California issued 13 AMBER alerts; 12 of the children were recovered safely and the remaining alert was found to be a misunderstanding.[24]

By September 2002, 26 states had established AMBER Alert systems that covered all or parts of the state. A bipartisan group of US Senators, led by Kay Bailey Hutchison and Dianne Feinstein, proposed legislation to name an AMBER Alert coordinator in the U.S. Justice Department who could help coordinate state efforts. The bill also provided $25 million in federal matching grants for states to establish AMBER Alert programs and necessary equipment purchases, such as electronic highway signs. A similar bill was sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Jennifer Dunn and Martin Frost.[24] The bill passed the Senate unanimously within a week of its proposal.[13] At an October 2002 conference on missing, exploited, and runaway children, President George W. Bush announced changes to the AMBER Alert system, including the development of a national standard for issuing AMBER Alerts.[25] A similar bill passed the House several weeks later on a 390–24 vote.[26] A related bill finally became law in April 2003.[27]

The alerts were offered digitally beginning in November 2002, when America Online began a service allowing people sign up to receive notification via computer, pager, or cell phone. Users of the service enter their ZIP code, thus allowing the alerts to be targeted to specific geographic regions.[28]

By 2005, all fifty states had operational programs and today the program operates across state and jurisdictional boundaries.[29] As of January 1, 2013, AMBER Alerts are automatically sent through the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program.[30]


Canada's system began in December 2002, when Alberta launched the first province-wide system. At the time, Alberta Solicitor-General Heather Forsyth said "We anticipate an Amber Alert will only be issued once a year in Alberta. We hope we never have to use it, but if a child is abducted Amber Alert is another tool police can use to find them and help them bring the child home safely."[31] The Alberta government committed to spending more than CA$1 million to expanding the province's emergency warning system so that it could be used effectively for Amber Alerts.[31] Other Canadian provinces soon adopted the system, and by May 2004, Saskatchewan was the only province that had not established an Amber Alert system.[32] Within the next year, the program was in use throughout the country.

Amber Alerts may also be distributed via the Alert Ready emergency alert system, which disrupts programming on all radio, television stations, and television providers in the relevant region to display and play audio of Amber Alert information.[33][34]

British Columbia[edit]

Translink, the corporation responsible for the regional transportation network of Metro Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, displays Amber alerts on all their buses' digital signs reading "AMBER ALERT | Listen to radio | Bus #". Details of the Amber alert information are also available on screens at transit stations.


The program was introduced in Quebec on May 26, 2003. The name AMBER alert was then adapted in French to Alerte Médiatique But Enfant Recherché, which directly translates as "Media Alert for Child Recovery". In order to launch an AMBER alert, police authorities need to meet 4 criteria simultaneously and with no exceptions:

  1. The missing person is a child under the age of 18.
  2. The police have reason to believe that the missing child has been abducted.
  3. The police have reason to believe that the physical safety or the life of the child is in serious danger.
  4. The police have information that may help locate the child, the suspect and/or the suspect's vehicle.[35]

Once all 4 conditions are met, the police service may call an AMBER alert. Simultaneously, all of Quebec's Ministry of transport message boards will broadcast the police's messages. The Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) road traffic controllers also help with the search. Television and radio stations broadcast a description of the child, the abductor and/or the abductor's car. On the radio, the information is broadcast every 20 minutes for two hours or less if the child is found. On the television, the information is broadcast on a ticker tape at the bottom of the screen for two hours with no interruptions. After this, the ticker tape is withdrawn, but the police continue to inform the public through the usual means of communication.

Over the years, the program gathered more partners in order for the alert to be communicated on different media platforms. As in Ontario, lotterycrown corporationLoto-Québec puts to the disposition of the police forces their 8500 terminals located throughout the province. Some of these terminals are equipped with a screen that faces the customer which makes it the largest network of its kind to operate in Canada. The technology employed enables them to broadcast the message on the entire network in under 10 minutes. In addition, The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) offers to most Canadians, upon free subscription, the possibility to receive, via text message, on their mobile devices AMBER alert notices.

Since its introduction in Quebec, every AMBER alert has had positive results.[36][37]


Ontario furthered its reach beyond media and highway signs by offering Amber Alerts on the province's 9,000 lottery terminal screens.[38]

After the abduction and murder of Victoria Stafford, an online petition was started by Suzie Pereira, a single mother of 2 children who gathered over 61,000 signatures, prompting a review of the Amber Alert. There was some concern regarding the strict criteria for issuing the alerts – criteria that was not met in the Stafford case – that resulted in an alert not being issued. Ontario Provincial Police have since changed their rules for issuing an alert from having to confirm an abduction and confirm threat of harm, to believe that a child has been abducted and believe is at risk of harm.[39][40]


Mexico joined international efforts to spread the use of the AMBER alert at an official launch ceremony on April 28, 2011.[41][42]


The Australian state of Queensland implemented a version of the AMBER Alerts in May 2005.[43] Other Australian states joined Queensland in Facebook's Amber Alert program in June 2017.[44]


Currently, there are alert systems active in 18 EU countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom.[45][46]

AMBER Alert Europe is an international non-profit organisation with 27 members (law enforcement, ministries & NGOs) in 19 countries. It exists to provide an EU wide response to the EU objective on Child Alerts, which states that an early warning system for child abductions, with cross-border interoperability, should be established in all 28 EU countries.[47] AMBER Alert Europe uses the same technology as the Dutch AMBER Alert plan.[48]

The first cross-border AMBER Alert was issued in the early morning of May 8, 2013 for two Dutch brothers. The boys' photo was displayed on large screens in the Belgian province of Limbourg and in North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) and has received extensive media attention in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The bodies of the children were found on May 19, 2013 near Cothen (the Netherlands).[49][50][51][52]

In 2014, AMBER Alert Europe launched the Police Expert Network on Missing Children. Goal of the network is to allow missing children police experts to quickly and informally contact their colleagues in other European member states and exchange best practices.[53]


In February 2006, France's Justice ministry launched an apparatus based on the AMBER alerts named Alerte-Enlèvement (fr) (abduction alert) or Dispositif Alerte-Enlèvement (fr) (abduction alert apparatus) with the help of most media and railroad and motorway companies.


The Dutch AMBER Alert was launched in 2008 by the Dutch National Police,[54] the Dutch minister of Justice at the time, Ernst Hirsch Ballin,[55][56] and social enterprise Netpresenter.[57] On February 14, 2009, the first Dutch AMBER Alert was issued when a 4-year-old boy went missing in Rotterdam. He was found safe and sound after being recognized by a person who saw his picture on an electronic billboard in a fast food restaurant. He was recovered so quickly, that the transmission of the AMBER Alert was halted before all recipients received it. Since 2008, the AMBER Alert system has been deployed for 25 AMBER Alerts and almost 1000 Missing Child Alerts.[58]

Currently, AMBER Alert has 3 million participants including thousands of large organizations.[59] In addition, the last AMBER Alert that was issued, was seen by more than 12 million Dutch citizens (89 percent of the Dutch population).[60] With a success rate of 92 percent, the Dutch AMBER Alert system is an example of effective citizen sourcing.[61]

An AMBER Alert is issued when a child is missing or abducted and the Dutch police fear that the life or health of the child is in imminent danger. The system enables the police to immediately alert press and public nationwide, by means of electronic highway signs, TV, radio, social media, PCs, large advertising screens (digital signage), email, text messages, apps, printable posters, RSS news feeds, website banners and pop-ups.[55] There are four key criteria in The Netherlands to be met before an AMBER Alert is issued:

  1. The child is (very likely) abducted by an unknown person or persons or the child is missing and its life is in imminent danger
  2. The victim is a minor (under 18 years of age);
  3. There is enough information about the victim to increase the chances of the child being found by means of an AMBER Alert, such as a photo, information about the abductor or the vehicle used during the abduction;
  4. The AMBER Alert is issued as soon as possible after the abduction or disappearance of the child.[54]

Parts of the Dutch AMBER Alert system are being used for Missing Child Alerts. A Missing Child Alert is issued when there is an immediate and significant risk of harm for the missing child but the case does not reach the criteria for an AMBER Alert. The Dutch police can decide to publicize information and ask the help of citizens to recover the child.[62] AMBER Alert Netherlands is a founding member of AMBER Alert Europe, the European Child Rescue Alert and Police Network on Missing Children.[63]

United Kingdom[edit]

On April 1, 2007, the AMBER Alert system became active in Northwest England.[64] An implementation across the rest of Britain was planned at that time. This was realized on May 25, 2010 with the nationwide launch of the Child Rescue Alert, based on the AMBER Alert system. The first system in the UK of this kind was created in Sussex on November 14, 2002. This was followed by versions in Surrey and Hampshire. By 2005, every local jurisdiction in England and Wales had its own form of alert system.[65] The system was first used in the UK on October 3, 2012, with regard to missing 5 year-old April Jones in Wales.


In April 2009, it was announced that an AMBER Alert system would be set up in Ireland, In May 2012, the Child Rescue Ireland (CRI) Alert was officially introduced.[66] Ireland's first AMBER alert was issued upon the disappearance of two boys,[67] Eoghan (10) and Ruarí Chada (5).


In September 2007, Malaysia implemented the Nurin Alert. Based on the AMBER alert, it is named for a missing eight-year-old girl, Nurin Jazlin.


In 2018, Ecuador's Department of Security introduced its own AMBER Alert called EMILIA Alert, named after the abducted girl Emilia Benavides in December 2017.

Retrieval rate[edit]

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, of the children abducted and murdered by strangers, 75% are killed within the first three hours in the USA.[12] Amber Alerts are designed to inform the general public quickly when a child has been kidnapped and is in danger so "the public [would be] additional eyes and ears of law enforcement".[12] As of August 2013, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 657 children have been successfully recovered as a result of the existence of the AMBER Alert program.[68]

A Scripps Howard study of the 233 AMBER Alerts issued in the United States in 2004 found that most issued alerts did not meet the Department of Justice's criteria. Fully 50% (117 alerts) were categorized by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children as being "family abductions", very often a parent involved in a custody dispute. There were 48 alerts for children who had not been abducted at all, but were lost, ran away, involved in family misunderstandings (for example, two instances where the child was with grandparents), or as the result of hoaxes. Another 23 alerts were issued in cases where police did not know the name of the allegedly abducted child, often as the result of misunderstandings by witnesses who reported an abduction.

Seventy of the 233 AMBER Alerts issued in 2004 (30%) were actually children taken by strangers or who were unlawfully travelling with adults other than their legal guardians.[69]

According to the 2014 Amber Alert Report, 186 Amber Alerts were issued in the US, involving 239 children. 60 (25%) were taken by strangers or people other than their legal guardians.


Some outside scholars examining the system in depth disagree with the "official" results.[70][71][72] A research team led by criminologist Timothy Griffin reviewed hundreds of abduction cases that occurred between 2003 and 2006 and found that AMBER Alerts actually had little apparent role in the eventual return of abducted children. The AMBER Alerts tended to be "successful" in relatively mundane abductions, such as when the child was taken by a noncustodial parent or other family member. There was little evidence that AMBER Alerts routinely "saved lives", although a crucial research constraint was the impossibility of knowing with certainty what would have happened if no alert had been issued in a particular case.[73]

Griffin and coauthor Monica Miller articulated the limits to AMBER Alert in a subsequent research article. They stated that alerts are inherently constrained, because to be successful in the most menacing cases there needs to be a rapid synchronization of several events (rapid discovery that the child is missing and subsequent alert, the fortuitous discovery of the child or abductor by a citizen, and so forth). Furthermore, there is a contradiction between the need for rapid recovery and the prerogative to maintain the strict issuance criteria to reduce the number of frivolous alerts, creating a dilemma for law enforcement officials and public backlash when alerts are not issued in cases ending as tragedies. Finally, the implied causal model of alert (rapid recovery can save lives) is in a sense the opposite of reality: In the worst abduction scenarios, the intentions of the perpetrator usually guarantee that anything public officials do will be "too slow".

Because the system is publicly praised for saving lives despite these limitations, Griffin and Miller argue that AMBER Alert acts as "crime control theater" in that it "creates the appearance but not the fact of crime control".[74] AMBER Alert is thus a socially constructed "solution" to the rare but intractable crime of child-abduction murder. Griffin and Miller have subsequently applied the concept to other emotional but ineffective legislation such as safe-haven laws and polygamy raids, and continue their work in developing the concept of "crime control theater" and on the AMBER Alert system.

Griffin considers his findings preliminary, reporting his team examined only a portion of the Amber Alerts issued over the three-year period they focused on, so he recommends taking a closer look at the evaluation of the program and its intended purpose, instead of simply promoting the program.

The 4 a.m. timing of a July 2013 New York child abduction alert sent through the Wireless Emergency Alerts system raised concerns that many cellphone users will now disable WEA alerts.[75]

False alarms[edit]

Advocates for missing children are concerned that the public is becoming desensitized to AMBER Alerts because of a large number of false alarms, where police issue an AMBER Alert without strictly adhering to the U.S. Department of Justice's activation guidelines.[76]

Effects on traffic[edit]

AMBER alerts are often displayed on electronic message signs. The Federal Highway Administration has instructed states to display AMBER alerts on highway signs sparingly, citing safety concerns from distracted drivers and the negative impacts of traffic congestion.[77]

Many states have policies in place that limit the use of AMBER alerts on freeway signs. In Los Angeles, an AMBER alert issued in October 2002 that was displayed on area freeway signs caused significant traffic congestion. As a result, the California Highway Patrol elected not to display the alerts during rush hour, citing safety concerns.[78] The state of Wisconsin only displays AMBER alerts on freeway signs if it is deemed appropriate by the transportation department and a public safety agency. AMBER alerts do not preempt messages related to traffic safety.[79]


The United States Postal Service issued a postage stampcommemorating AMBER Alerts in May 2006. The 39-cent stamp features a chalk pastel drawing by artist Vivienne Flesher of a reunited mother and child, with the text "AMBER ALERT saves missing children" across the pane. The stamp was released as part of the observance of National Missing Children's Day.[80][81]

In 2006, a TV movie, Amber's Story, was broadcast on Lifetime. It starred Elisabeth Röhm and Sophie Hough.

A comic book entitled Amber Hagerman Deserves Justice: A Night Owl Story was published by Wham Bang Comics in 2009. Geared toward a young audience by teen author Jake Tinsley and Manga artist Jason Dube, it tells Amber's story, recounts the investigation into her murder, and touches on the effect her death has had on young children and parents everywhere. It was created to promote what was then a reopened investigation into her murder.[82]


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  41. ^"El Universal – – México, en red de alerta para extraviados". June 18, 2013. 
  42. ^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 11, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2011. 
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AMBER Alert displayed on cable TV by the Emergency Alert System. Generated via a R189 One-Net EAS device used by a NJ cable system.
Logo AMBER Alert Nederland
An electronic traffic-condition sign displaying an AMBER Alert. The alleged abductor is the boy's father


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