On October 20th, 2017 attorneys, investigators, family and community members will gather in a courtroom in Albuquerque, New Mexico to hear the judge sentence a man to prison for the abduction and murder of an 11 year old Native American girl. That case, more than any other in recent memory drew attention to the fact that Native children simply don’t enjoy the same access to AMBER Alert as other children across this country.
History has taught us that when a child is abducted time is the enemy. Research has shown that in cases where homicide is the outcome, approximately 76% of those victims are killed within three hours of the abduction. We also know that there is generally a sequence of events that follows an abduction. The abductor will take the child away from initial contact site to another location both to avoid detection and to allow for the opportunity to carry out whatever fantasy or motivation that compelled them to take the child.
It’s during this time that the child is at greatest risk. The abductor may release the child on their own or they may just as easily kill the child to avoid apprehension. It is these dynamics that make it crucial that officials immediately assess the circumstances of the abduction, deploy resources and alert the public to increase the probability of safely locating the child before the abductor can harm them.
The AMBER Alert is the tool that supports this process and improves the chances of safely recovering the abducted child. AMBER Alerts have resulted in the safe recovery of 868 children. It exists in all 50 states because Congress took the steps to support state efforts to refine, standardize, and support this work.
The PROTECT Act, signed into law on April 30, 2003, comprehensively strengthened law enforcement’s ability to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish violent crimes committed against children. The Act codified the previously-established National AMBER Alert Coordinator role in the U.S. Department of Justice and lead to the development of a national AMBER Alert strategy. The responsibility for this program has been assigned to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs.
The AMBER Alert plans created through the PROTECT Act created a nationwide system that enabled law enforcement agencies across the country to alert the public when a child was abducted. Unfortunately, while all 50 states and many regional areas have implemented AMBER Alert Plans, tribes have not been able to keep pace. Today, the vast majority of tribes do not have a child abduction response plan in place and may not be ready to act in the event of a child abduction.
Being ready means having the system in place before it is needed. Being ready means training first responders before they get the call. Being ready means having agreements in place with State AMBER Alert officials before a child goes missing. Being ready means educating the members of our community and making them part of the effort to protect children from monsters like the one who will receive his sentence in that Albuquerque courtroom.
As a parent, tribal leader, police officer or community member, we all have responsibility to do something. To stand up and ask why we are not ready and what we have to do to get ready before something happens in our community. Be the first one to stand up. Make a statement by taking action. Ask your tribal public safety officials if your community has access to the AMBER Alert in your State or region. Ask if there is a plan in place and if first responders are trained to act in the event of a child abduction. Ask tribal council what is happening in your community to protect children and what you can do to help.
There are resources out there. The US Department of Justice, through the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program will train first responders, child protection officials, and community members at no cost to the tribe. They will connect your community with the State AMBER Alert program and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to make sure that every resources possible is available when a child goes missing.
Go to https://www.amber-ic.org/resources/training-2/ and sign up for the 1-hour video-based training, “Building AMBER Alert in Indian Country.” At the end of the training you can complete a quick online survey to receive help in bringing AMBER Alert to your community. You can also reach out to us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 877-712-6237 (877-71-AMBER).
Be the person who is the champion for children in your community. Make the call.