15 Finds Out: AMBER Alert questions answered by those who issue them

15 Finds Out

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Everyone knows when an AMBER Alert is issued thanks to the alert system installed on most cell phones. But does everyone know why, how or when they are issued?

WANE 15 reached out to multiple departments within local and state law enforcement to get answers to questions so many of our viewers are asking.

Prior to July 1, 2018, AMBER Alerts were for children under the age of 18, and Silver Alerts were for adults over the age of 18. However, there was a gap for a child who was not abducted but was missing. The child would not fit into either alert.

After July 1, 2018, the legislature added a category to the Silver Alert called “missing, endangered child.” This took away the age limit on a Silver Alert.

Current AMBER Alert criteria:

  • The child must be under 18 years of age
  • The child must be believed to be abducted, AND in danger of serious bodily harm or death
  • There must be enough descriptive information to believe the broadcast will help
  • Request must be recommended by the law enforcement agency of jurisdiction
  • Enter the child into the IDACS/NCIC with message in EME

AMBER Alerts are only issued by the Clearinghouse department of the Indiana State Police in Indianapolis. The Clearinghouse verifies the criteria has been met and sends the official AMBER Alert.

“[The request for an AMBER Alert] has to come from a law enforcement agency,” explains Lt. Jen Holt, who oversees the Clearinghouse. “The Clearinghouse is not an investigative unit… we’re only going to put [an AMBER Alert] out on behalf of an investigating agency.”

The Clearinghouse recommends any parents notify local police as soon as a child goes missing to help get an AMBER Alert issued sooner.

Lt. Holt said law enforcement usually helps to look for the child for a few hours before they reach out to the Clearinghouse. In order to speed up the release of an AMBER Alert, parents should contact their local police soon after they notice a child has gone missing to help get the word out faster.

For instances where a child has been missing for a while and an AMBER Alert has just been issued, Lt. Holt said that it has to do with when local police are notified.

“A child could go missing three weeks ago, and a parent just calls the police department today. Then the police department gets ahold of us to determine if it meets the criteria, and we go from there,” Lt. Holt said.

Tips for parents on keeping children safe, what do if a child goes missing, and more can be found on the Indiana State website.

Steps for an AMBER Alert to be issued:

  1. Parents will need to call the police department and say their child is missing
  2. Police department contacts Clearinghouse to verify if the information meets the AMBER Alert criteria
  3. If it does meet the criteria, the local police department sends in paperwork to the Clearinghouse
    • If it does not meet the criteria, a Silver Alert might be issued
  4. The child is entered in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children through the Clearinghouse

“We have forever been limited to 90 characters [with AMBER Alerts on the phone]. And those 90 characters that you see on your phone is exactly what is put on the boards above the interstates, that are limited to 90 characters.”

Lt. Holt said that instances where a vehicle description is in the AMBER Alert, the hope is that someone could see the vehicle or license plate and notify police.

“It is in the works to be able to maybe add a URL to an alert. However, in the testing phases and in other states, it has been a real problem in that the influx of information has caused the entire government website to crash. So, our IOT section for the state of Indiana is working to try and find a solution before something like that happens.”

Delays that a person may have in receiving an AMBER Alert are due to a phone carrier delay, Lt. Holt said. The alerts are sent out in one mass wave, not multiple.

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