Guidelines for Issuing an Amber Alert

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

Amber Alerts are issued 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 digital highway billboards and signs.


Although each state has its own guidelines for issuing Amber Alerts, these are the 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 17 years old or younger.
  • The child's name and other critical data elements have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) comptuer system.


This explains why Amber Alerts usually aren't issued when children are held past the agreed upon time by noncustodial parents: They are not considered to be at risk for bodily harm. However, if there is evidence that the parent might be a danger to the child, 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.


On Jan. 13, 1996, a witness saw Amber Hagerman, a 9‐year‐old Arlington, Texas, girl, being snatched from her bicycle in a parking lot. Four days later, Amber’s body was found 3.2 miles from her home.

Among the Dallas‐Fort Worth area residents outraged by the abduction was Diana Simone. She suggested that an emergency alert system be implemented to notify residents and allow them to assist in searching for abducted children. Simone asked that such a program by dedicated to Amber's memory.

The program, known as America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response plan, or Amber Alert plan, was instituted later that year in the Dallas‐Fort Worth area through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and spread across the country.


According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs:

  • As of April 2019, 957 children had been rescued specifically because of Amber Alerts.
  • As of March 2019, there are 83 Amber Plans throughout the United States.
  • From January 1 to December 31, 2017, 195 Amber Alerts were issued in the U.S. involving 263 children. Of those cases, 193 resulted in a recovery, 39 of which were a direct result of an Amber Alert being issued.


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Montaldo, Charles. "Guidelines for Issuing an Amber Alert." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Montaldo, Charles. (2020, August 27). Guidelines for Issuing an Amber Alert. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Guidelines for Issuing an Amber Alert." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 28, 2021).