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The AMBER Plan is a voluntary, cooperative program between the law enforcement community and the broadcast media to send an emergency alert, called “AMBER Alert,” to the public when a child has been abducted and it is believed that the child’s life is in grave danger. Once notified of an authenticated abduction, the New Jersey State Police contacts the broadcast media, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as all listed AMBER Alert partners. NOAA immediately interrupts radio and television programming to broadcast information about the abducted child, and/or the abductor, by activating a prearranged distinctive tone, followed by “This is an AMBER Alert.” The media will rebroadcast the AMBER Alert as often as possible, per the guidelines established by the New Jersey Broadcasters’ Association (NJBA) for the first three to six hours. After the initial six hours, the alert will be rebroadcast at such intervals as the investigating authority, the State Police and the participating media deem appropriate.
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AMBER Alerts are intended to be issued when there is reason to believe that a child has been abducted and may be in danger of death or serious bodily injury. AMBER Alerts are not intended for all missing child incidents, runaways, or child custody situations, and it is the responsibility of all law enforcement agencies to make certain that the AMBER Alert system is not abused. The misuse of the AMBER Alert system would lead to a lack of confidence by members of the general public whose assistance is being sought. The activation of an AMBER Alert in any case where there is no objectively reasonable basis to believe that a child has been abducted and may be in danger of death or serious bodily injury would undermine the program’s effectiveness by leading citizens to pay less attention to these alerts, which in turn would endanger abducted children who are genuinely at risk of death or serious bodily harm. Accordingly, it is the policy of the State of New Jersey that an AMBER Alert should only be activated by the State Police when the circumstances meet specific criteria that are set forth below.
The decision whether or not to issue an AMBER Alert is a judgment call that must be made very quickly based on the limited information available at that moment. For this reason, law enforcement officials who apply the following criteria in good faith and who document the reasons and factual basis for their decision should not be second-guessed based on subsequent events, or on information that was not reasonably available at the time that the decision to initiate or refrain from initiating an AMBER Alert had to be made.
Criteria for activation of the AMBER Alert system
Applying the activation criteria in cases involving family abductions
When deciding whether to activate or request activation of an AMBER Alert, law enforcement officials should consider whether the reported abduction was done by a family member or someone acting on behalf of a family member. An AMBER Alert should not be activated unless the AMBER Alert criteria have been met.
When a stranger abducts a child, it may generally be assumed that the child is at great risk of physical harm. In the case of a family abduction, law enforcement officials must consider the complexity of the circumstances of the reported abduction (i.e., e.g., the manner in which it was committed and whether violence, threat of violence, a deadly weapon, or other dangerous behavior or circumstance was involved), as well as any available background information about the abductor and his or her relationship to the child and any history of prior abductions, custody disputes, domestic violence or child abuse. Furthermore, when assessing the totality of the known circumstances, law enforcement officials responding to a report of a family abduction may need to consider the possibility that the person reporting the abduction has a motive to overstate the risk of physical harm posed to the child in order, for example, to gain an advantage in ongoing or contemplated matrimonial or custody rights litigation.
This statewide policy should not be construed in any way to categorically prevent activation of an AMBER Alert in family abduction cases. The familial relationship between the suspected abductor and the abducted child is merely a factor that should be considered as part of the totality of the circumstances in determining whether there is reason to believe that the child may be in danger of death or serious bodily injury. In family abduction cases, the law enforcement officials should consider the following specific circumstances, when information about these circumstances is available:
AMBER Alerts are only one part of a comprehensive law enforcement response to reports of abducted/missing children
Even when the circumstances of an abduction or missing child case do not meet the criteria for activation of an AMBER Alert, the law enforcement agency responding to the incident should immediately contact the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit for assistance, and must conduct the missing child investigation in accordance with guidelines, protocols, and/or best practices disseminated by the State Police pursuant to Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2008-4. The decision not to activate an AMBER Alert to interrupt radio and television programs with an emergency broadcast should in no way preclude a law enforcement agency from preparing and distributing flyers or using other means to enlist public assistance in locating the missing child. Nor does the statewide AMBER Alert Plan in any way preclude a law enforcement agency from entering into an agreement with local media to publicize missing persons reports. The AMBER Alert program is intended to supplement, not supplant, other techniques and methods for soliciting the public’s assistance in locating missing persons.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) lists the various Statewide, regional, and local programs in effect. Fifty-two variations on the Alert system are in use across the country, and the Canadian government is considering a similar program.
The AMBER Plan was created in 1996 as a powerful legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, a bright little girl who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas and brutally murdered. The tragedy shocked and outraged the entire community. Residents contacted radio stations in the Dallas area and suggested they broadcast special "alerts" over the airwaves so that they could help prevent such incidents in the future.
In response to the community's concern for the safety of local children, the Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Radio Managers teamed up with local law-enforcement agencies in northern Texas and developed this innovative early warning system to help find abducted children. Statistics show that, when abducted, a child's greatest enemy is the passage of time.
The AMBER Alert message encourages the public to look for the missing child or suspect. You become the ears and eyes of law enforcement. In the event that you spot a child, adult, or vehicle fitting the AMBER Alert description, immediately call 9-1-1 and provide authorities with as much information as you know.