How NJ police decide whether to use an Amber Alert for a missing kid
The only active Amber Alert in the country revolves around the suspected abduction of 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez, who went missing from a Bridgeton park on Sept. 16.
Aimed to capture the attention of the public and instantly galvanize the community to assist in the safe recovery of a child, Amber Alerts are not issued for just any missing-child case. In fact, the mere abduction of a minor isn't enough to sound the alarms through radio, television, road signs and cellphones.
"You know that when an Amber Alert is issued that detectives have done due diligence and have determined that they have reason to believe that this child is in grave danger," said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Flynn with the New Jersey State Police.
In New Jersey and across the country, the issuance of an Amber Alert doesn't occur until three criteria are met:
- There is reason to believe a minor has been abducted.
- There is reason to believe the abducted child may be in danger of death or serious bodily injury.
- There is reason to believe that such an alert would assist in locating the child.
"There has to be enough information to share with the public to aid in the rescue of the child," said Robert Lowery, vice president of the Missing Children Division at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. "Simply the description of the child doesn't always qualify for Amber."
Lowery said law enforcement typically hopes to share information on a suspect or vehicle before issuing an alert. In the case of Dulce, an alert was issued more than 24 hours after her disappearance was reported, once an investigation determined a male "drove off with Dulce in a red van with tinted windows and a sliding rear passenger side door." The alert described the male as light-skinned, wearing orange sneakers, red pants and a black shirt.
"We don't want to face a desensitized public when it comes to our missing children, so we reserve Amber Alerts for our worst-of-the-worst types of circumstances," Lowery said.
It's not uncommon, Lowery said, for abduction cases to result in no pertinent information the public can use to help law enforcement.
Whether or not an alert is issued, the same law enforcement resources are used to recover a missing or abducted child, said Flynn with the State Police. Law enforcement can still enlist the public's assistance and contact media outlets without an Amber Alert in place, he said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.