What Are the Guidelines for Issuing an Amber Alert?

These Criteria Must Be Met in Missing Child Cases

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When children disappear, sometimes an Amber Alert is issued and sometimes it is not. That's because not all missing child cases meet the guidelines necessary for an Amber Alert to be issued.

Amber Alerts are designed to call the public's attention to a child who has been abducted and is at risk of being harmed. Information about the child is broadcast throughout the area via news media, on the Internet and by other means, such as highway billboards and signs.

Guidelines for Amber Alerts

Although each state has its own guidelines for issuing Amber Alerts, these are the general guidelines recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ):

  • There is a reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
  • The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
  • The abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger.
  • The child's name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

No Alerts for Runaways

This is why Amber Alerts are not usually issued when children are abducted by a non-custodial parent ​because they are not considered to be at risk for bodily harm. However, if there is evidence that the parent may be a danger to the children, an Amber Alert can be issued.

Also, if there is not an adequate description of the child, the suspected abductor or the vehicle in which the child was abducted, Amber Alerts can be ineffective.

Issuing alerts in the absence of significant evidence that an abduction has taken place could lead to abuse of the Amber Alert system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness, according to the DOJ. This is the reason that alerts are not issued for runaways.