“Thank you for … ensuring the safety and well-being of our nation’s children,” OJJDP Acting Administrator Chyrl Jones said as she welcomed attendees to the National AMBER Alert and AMBER Alert in Indian Country Virtual Symposium. “You are the heroes they deserve.”
OJJDP’s AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program organized the event, designing an interactive online program that preserved aspects of in-person conferences. Networking and regional breakout sessions offered participants opportunities to exchange ideas and develop professional relationships that could contribute to the safe recovery of a missing child.
“AMBER” is an acronym for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The AMBER Alert early warning system notifies the public when a child has been abducted. It was launched in 1996 after the murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was taken while riding her bicycle near her grandmother’s home in Arlington, TX. From the system’s inception to July 5, 2021, AMBER Alerts directly contributed to the recovery of 1,074 missing children. OJJDP manages the National AMBER Alert program; Office of Justice Programs Acting Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon serves as the national coordinator.
“Each one of you—law enforcement officers, AMBER Alert coordinators, state clearinghouse managers, and Child Abduction Response Team members—plays a vital role in reuniting missing and abducted children with their families and keeping hope alive for the families who are still searching.”
—OJJDP Acting Administrator Chyrl Jones
Acting Administrator Jones highlighted ongoing OJJDP efforts to expand AMBER Alert in Indian country, referring to the 2018 Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act, which facilitated the integration of tribal AMBER Alert systems into state and regional systems. Prior to 2018, tribal law enforcement lacked AMBER Alert programs to reach people living on reservations—a gap revealed by the 2016 murder of Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old from the Navajo Nation.
The AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program works to help tribes develop or enhance their own AMBER Alert plans, the Acting Administrator noted in recorded remarks. “The tribes are reviewing best practices for collaborating with the state or regional AMBER Alert program,” she said, “examining the requirements for requesting that an AMBER Alert be issued, and developing their processes for requesting an alert for an abduction that takes place on tribal lands.” Some tribes remain disconnected from AMBER Alert programs, however; OJJDP’s training and technical assistance providers at Fox Valley Technical College continue to work with them to assess and resolve barriers.
Symposium attendees included state, regional, and tribal AMBER Alert coordinators; state clearinghouse managers; Child Abduction Response Team coordinators; and other AMBER Alert partners. Speakers represented several OJJDP-funded entities, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and National Criminal Justice Training Center. Speakers from The Innocent Justice Foundation, the Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives (Operation Lady Justice), and law enforcement also led sessions. Personal reflections underscored the need for an early alert system—including remarks by activist Nacole Svendgard, whose daughter survived abduction and sexual trafficking, and by Ashlynne Mike’s mother, Pamela Foster.
OJJDP’s Implementation of the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018: A Report to Congress discusses challenges and obstacles tribes encounter when integrating state or regional AMBER Alert communication plans.
Read about the 25th anniversary of the AMBER Alert program in the January/February 2021 issue of OJJDP News @ a Glance.