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Amber Alerts in New York: How they’re activated and why

A Amber Alert warning is displayed on a

A Amber Alert warning is displayed on a transit bus destination sign. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / IanMcD

Amber Alerts, a program for sending out urgent information about endangered missing children, are handled in New York by State Police. Based on information provided by State Police on the Amber Alert website, here’s a rundown of how they work and when they get activated.

Activation

To get an alert activated, local law enforcement agencies contact the State Police’s Special Victims Unit, which reviews the details to ensure the case meets the criteria.

Once an alert is activated, all broadcasters are notified, along with state partners such as transportation and lottery authorities.

State and federal agencies are also notified, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. If warranted, interstate activation in neighboring states or Canadian provinces is requested. If the area is adjacent to a border, the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Canadian Customs are notified.

“Experience has shown that excessive or inconsistent use of the AMBER Alert Plan diminishes program integrity and effectiveness,” the State Police website says.

“Not only is the relationship between broadcasters and law enforcement harmed, but the public can become apathetic. To maintain program integrity, stringent activation criteria have been established and are strictly followed.”

Criteria

The investigating law enforcement agency must have reasonable cause to believe that:

An abduction of a child has occurred and that child is believed to be in danger of serious bodily harm or death — either due to another person’s actions or a proven mental or physical condition.

However, if information is not specific enough or an extended period of time has passed since the disappearance, activation may be considered impractical, even if the activation criteria have been met.

Familial abductions qualify only when a child is endangered by the abducting family member.

Whenever a request does not meet the criteria, requesting agencies are referred to other State Police investigative resources and to the Missing Persons Clearinghouse for possible issuance of a Missing Child/College Student Alert.

History

AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, and Amber Hagerman, 9, who was kidnapped in Arlington, Texas, and killed in 1996. Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed up with police, and other states and localities adopted the idea. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the U.S. Department of Justice took on responsibility for national coordination.

Like the program in Texas, New York State’s Amber Alert Plan is a voluntary partnership among law-enforcement agencies, the media and transportation agencies to issue an urgent bulletin in child abduction and missing person cases.

How you can help

Take note of the details and keep an eye out. Call police or 911 with any information that could help locate the child, providing specific details such as the location and time of sighting, descriptions of the child, alleged accomplices, vehicles and direction of travel. Do not do anything that could endanger yourself or the child.

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