Amber Tip Line 855-64ALERT (855-642-5378)
A Passion for Protecting Children
Among the employees of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (DPS), few things are taken as seriously as the protection of defenseless children. It was with that passion that Mississippi’s statewide Amber Alert Plan was developed. 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 Amber Plan is a critical missing child response program that utilizes the resources of law enforcement and media to notify the public when children are kidnapped by predators. The road to the development of this system was traveled in a prudent and methodical fashion. The DPS staff has crafted a plan that we hope we will never use. However, reality brings with it the sobering truth that there will be a time when the Amber Alert System will be activated and when that time comes we believe we have produced a plan that will be effective.
Recognizing a Need
In the spring of 2002 a need for an Amber Alert Plan was recognized and work began. Additionally, it was determined that a statewide law enforcement agency should be the clearinghouse for authentication and issuance of all Amber Alerts. This determination was made because of two reasons. First, the oversight agency should have personnel on duty at all times and have access to a statewide communications system. Secondly, the investigation of a child abduction is a law enforcement function and the state’s lead police entity would be best equipped to handle such an endeavor. Therefore, DPS and the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol’s Bureau of Investigations, which is under the auspices of DPS, were tasked with overseeing the Amber System.
The Mission was Launched
On June 6, 2002 an exploratory committee was established within the DPS to research the feasibility and implementation of a statewide Amber Alert Plan in Mississippi. Fact-finding started immediately with the review of Amber plans from other states to include California, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Florida. The committee began to contact other states that had Amber Systems in place. Members of DPS staff drew from plans that have been implemented in other parts of the country to extract the best elements of those plans, while establishing nuances that make the plan a nice fit for Mississippi. Nevertheless, our pursuit to improve or “fine tune” Mississippi’s plan continues. As new technology and equipment is developed that can be added to enhance our Amber system, we plan to incorporate those innovations. The staff of DPS has been resourceful and able to implement an Amber Alert System at virtually no cost to the taxpayers of Mississippi, there are other components and equipment that would be helpful and useful to improve the Amber Alert System in Mississippi.
We asked for and received information regarding how these other states were carrying out their plans. Members of the committee also conducted research through contacts with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Association of Broadcasters.
A Plan Takes Shape
When a child is abducted by a stranger, time is always of the essence. Research shows that three-fourths of the times the child is killed within three hours of the abduction. As in other states a way to rapidly disseminate information to the public to assist law enforcement is needed. Accordingly, based on the Florida model, the committee realized that there was already a mechanism in place to quickly get out information and that was through the statewide Emergency Alert System (EAS). Also considering that research shows that more than 90% of motorists listen to the radio added impedance to the use of EAS. Discussions began in June with the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters (MAB) and officials of EAS. These discussions lead to the MAB’s donation to DPS of the needed equipment to interface and activate the EAS. This equipment was installed in the DPS Headquarters complex with BellSouth donating the necessary data link between DPS and the primary EAS radio station. This is an extremely effective way of providing descriptions of the child, the kidnapper, vehicles or accomplices. Besides turning the public into instant investigators when children are kidnapped, benefits of the Amber Alert include:
- It is free
- It encourages participation between natural adversaries, law enforcement and media by drawing on their inherent strengths
- It promotes accountability by creating the foundation of a comprehensive missing child protocol
- It is an effective time critical response to kidnappers who can disappear with children at the rate of a mile per minute
- It sends a powerful message to anyone who may have a propensity to abduct a child that Mississippi cares about and protects our children
- It saves lives.
Looking for Enhancements
State Troopers know all too well the effectiveness of Citizen Band radio communication. The notion of incorporating the CB radio network was also explored and lead to the establishment of a method of disseminating pertinent information to motorists on the roads and highways who monitor CB radios. Additionally, the Mississippi Association of Truckers was contacted regarding the dissemination of information directly to truck drivers who receive communications from their companies via satellite.
It was discovered that there is a requirement to set up a method by which the public can forward information to the MHP in the event of a sighting. Through BellSouth an “800” number has been established to get that information to the Emergency Operations Center at DPS Headquarters. Once that information is received by DPS, it can be forwarded on to the area of the state where the child and suspect were last seen. Furthermore, the cellular telephone companies were willing to set up a number, such as #AA, that would also route their customers to DPS Headquarters and the dissemination of information could then be completed in the same way that the “land line” phone call is done.
Meanwhile, criteria were being formulated that must be met before the activation of the Amber Alert will take place. First, an age of 17-year-old and younger was established as the first criterion (a vulnerable adult will also qualify). Furthermore, there must be a threat of imminent danger to qualify for Amber activation. Finally, there must be credible descriptions of the abductor, the child taken and the escape vehicle. If any of these criteria are not met it was decided that the case will be returned to the local level where law enforcement agencies will pursue it as they would any other missing persons report.
The following are some statistics that further underscore the importance of implementing a system to try and protect children from becoming a victim of a predator.
- Each year there are about 114,600 attempts to abduct a child by non-family members(1)
- Two-thirds or more of abductions involve sexual assault(3)
- Research shows that about 150 abducted children are murdered every year(4)
- There are between 3,000 and 4,500 non-family abductions reported to law enforcement annually(2)
- There is typically over a two hour delay in making the initial missing child report (60%) (5)
- Studies indicate that 74% of the children murdered by non-family members are killed within the first three hours of their abduction(6)
- Research indicates 44% of stranger abducted children are murdered within the first hour(7)
- The victims are killed 91% of the time within 24 hours in stranger abductions(9)
- Nearly all of the children abducted by a stranger, 99% die within 7 days of their abduction(10)
1-4) U.S. Department of Justice. Fact Sheet on Missing Children: National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrown-Away Children based on the research of David Finkelhor, Gerald Hotaling, and Andrea Sedlak. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, May 1990, page 2.
5&6) Kenneth A. Hanfland, Robert D. Keppel, and Joseph G. Weis. Case Management for Missing Children Homicide Investigation: Executive Summary. Olympia, Washington: Office of the Attorney General, State of Washington and U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, May 1997, page 3
7-10) The Office of Attorney General – Washington State. Case Management For Missing Children Homicide Investigator.