Amber Alert

Amber Alert Initial Reporting Form

History of the Amber Alert System in Mississippi

A Passion for Protecting Children
Among the employees of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (DPS), few things are taken as seriously as the protection of defenseless children. It was with that passion that Mississippi’s statewide Amber Alert Plan was developed. The Amber Plan was created in 1996 as a powerful legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, a bright little girl who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas and brutally murdered. The Amber Plan is a critical missing child response program that utilizes the resources of law enforcement and media to notify the public when children are kidnapped by predators. The road to the development of this system has been traveled in a prudent and methodical fashion.

Recognizing a Need
In the spring of 2002 a need for an Amber Alert Plan was recognized and work began. Additionally, it was determined that a statewide law enforcement agency should be the clearinghouse for authentication and issuance of all Amber Alerts. This determination was made because of two reasons. First, the oversight agency should have personnel on duty at all times and have access to a statewide communications system. Secondly, the investigation of a child abduction is a law enforcement function and the state’s lead police entity would be best equipped to handle such an endeavor. Therefore, DPS and the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol’s Bureau of Investigation, which is under the auspices of DPS, were tasked with overseeing the Amber Alert System.

The Mission Was Launched
On June 6, 2002, an exploratory committee was established within the Department of Public Safety to research the feasibility and implementation of a statewide Amber Alert Plan in Mississippi. Fact-finding started immediately with the review of Amber plans from other states to include California, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Florida. The committee began to contact other states that had Amber Systems in place. Members of DPS staff drew from plans that have been implemented in other parts of the country to extract the best elements of those plans, while establishing nuances that make the plan a nice fit for Mississippi. Nevertheless, the pursuit to improve or “fine tune” Mississippi’s plan continues. As new technology and equipment is developed that can be added to enhance our Amber system, we plan to incorporate those innovations. The staff of DPS has been resourceful and able to implement an Amber Alert System at virtually no cost to the taxpayers of Mississippi, and there are other components and equipment that would be helpful and useful to improve the Amber Alert System in Mississippi.

Information was asked for and received regarding how these other states were carrying out their plans. Members of the committee also conducted research through contacts with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Association of Broadcasters.

A Plan Takes Shape
When a child is abducted by a stranger, time is always of the essence. Research shows that three-fourths of the times the child is killed within three hours of the abduction. As in other states, a way to rapidly disseminate information to the public to assist law enforcement is needed. Accordingly, based on the Florida model, the committee realized that there was already a mechanism in place to quickly get out information and that was through the statewide Emergency Alert System (EAS). Also, considering that research shows that more than 90% of motorists listen to the radio, this added emphasis to the use of EAS. Discussions began that June with the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters (MAB) and officials of EAS. These discussions lead to the MAB’s donation to DPS of the needed equipment to interface and activate the EAS. This equipment was installed in the DPS Headquarters complex with BellSouth donating the necessary data link between DPS and the primary EAS radio station. This is an extremely effective way of providing descriptions of the child, the kidnapper, vehicles or accomplices. Besides turning the public into instant investigators when children are kidnapped, benefits of the Amber Alert include:

  • It is free
  • It encourages participation between natural adversaries, law enforcement and media by drawing on their inherent strengths
  • It promotes accountability by creating the foundation of a comprehensive missing child protocol
  • It is an effective time critical response to kidnappers who can disappear with children at the rate of a mile per minute
  • It sends a powerful message to anyone who may have a propensity to abduct a child that Mississippi cares about and protects our children
  • It saves lives.

Looking for Enhancements
It was discovered that there is a requirement to set up a method by which the public can forward information to the MHP in the event of a sighting. Through BellSouth, an “800” number was established directly into the Patrol’s Emergency Operations Center at DPS Headquarters to get tips and other important information to investigators. Once that information is received by DPS, it can be forwarded on to the area of the state where the child and suspect were last seen.

As technology advanced, dissemination of the Emergency Alert System message began using a web-based system that incorporated satellite technology for increased reliability and expediency.

Formulating Criteria
Meanwhile, criteria were being formulated that must be met before the activation of the Amber Alert will take place. First, an age of 17-year-old and younger was established as the first criterion (a vulnerable adult will also qualify). Furthermore, there must be a threat of imminent danger to qualify for Amber activation. Finally, there must be credible descriptions of the abductor, the child taken and the escape vehicle. If any of these criteria are not met, it was decided that the case will be returned to the local level where law enforcement agencies will pursue it as they would any other missing person report.