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OJJDP News @ a Glance

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Monthly Newsletter

OJJDP Continues Supporting Efforts To Expand AMBER Alert Plans in Tribal Communities

Group photo of AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program staff presenting technology toolkits to law enforcement officials from six Wisconsin Tribal Nations.
In October 2023, AATTAP presented technology toolkits to six Wisconsin Tribal Nations in Oneida, WI—Oneida Nation, Stockbridge Munsee, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac Du Flambeau, and Menominee. (Photo courtesy of AATTAP.)

The AMBER Alert system has grown enormously since its launch in 1996, following the kidnapping and brutal murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Texas. As other states and communities established their own early-warning systems, the AMBER Alert program became a critical tool for law enforcement agencies nationwide, assisting their work to safely recover children in the hours immediately after an abduction.

Each year, the nation observes AMBER Alert Awareness Day on January 13 to honor Amber’s memory and heighten awareness about child abduction. There are now 82 AMBER Alert plans nationwide, in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Indian country, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As of December 31, 2023, the AMBER Alert system had successfully recovered 1,161 children; another 149 were rescued due to wireless emergency alerts—text messages sent directly to cell phones.

With OJJDP support, in 2015 the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) launched the AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiative to help Tribal communities implement AMBER Alert plans and coordinate with existing state plans. AATTAP offers Tribes specialized training on missing child investigations, addressing topics specific to Native communities and holding exercises to simulate responses to missing child incidents. 

Instructors discuss how Tribal police coordinate with civilian authorities, and whether state and local law enforcement agencies are authorized to investigate on Tribal property. While many Tribes have their own police departments, others rely on state police or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Simulations help Tribes to anticipate what would happen during a search for a missing child, so “we want everybody at the table that they work with,” AATTAP Administrator Janell Rasmussen said.

Civilian authorities must understand cultural considerations that arise during investigations in Tribal communities, such as searches on burial grounds and other sacred sites, family requests to include a spiritual leader or traditional healer in a search party, and customs regarding the handling of recovered bodies.

“You’re not dealing with just one family, you’re dealing with an entire community,” said Tyesha Wood, Program Manager for the AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiative. She noted the lack of cellular and Internet service in many Tribal communities, which limits the reach of AMBER Alerts. In one Tribe, an Elder suggested a practical workaround to the problem—use the bell normally reserved to broadcast wildfire warnings, but introduce a sequence specific to AMBER Alerts. The Elder’s solution was “genius,” Ms. Wood said. AATTAP supports Tribes with specialized resources and training, but the best solutions happen when the community identifies its own answers to its unique challenges, she added.

In 2022, AATTAP began supplying Tribal law enforcement agencies with toolkits of equipment to strengthen their responses to reports of endangered, missing, or abducted children. As of December 31, 2023, AATTAP had delivered 129 toolkits, which include a Toughbook laptop, digital camera, and wireless multifunction printer. Last year, through a partnership with FirstNet Authority, hotspot devices were added to the toolkits to enable WiFi Internet access.

OJJDP has updated When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, a resource that helps families prioritize actions that can assist law enforcement efforts when a child goes missing. The newest edition has been supplemented with a video library of interviews with parents who helped author the guide.

Date Created: January 24, 2024