Crime

What's the criteria for an Amber Alert?

Amber Alerts help law enforcement locate missing children — but not all disappearances warrant an alert.

Roadway sign reads "Child Abduction"
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In the unfortunate event that a child goes missing, an Amber Alert may be issued to help law enforcement locate them. 

This was recently the case for 9-year-old Charlotte Sena, who went missing over the weekend while on a family camping trip in upstate New York. Thankfully, police were able to track down her whereabouts and rescue her from a kidnapping. 

But in some cases when a minor disappears, an Amber Alert is not issued. This is likely because the incident did not meet the criteria to warrant an alert, per Justice Department guidelines

First things first, Amber Alerts are issued when law enforcement has reason to believe an abduction has occurred. The age of the missing person must be 17 or younger. 

"Clearly, stranger abductions are the most dangerous for children and thus are primary to the mission of an Amber Alert," the Justice Department said. "To allow activations in the absence of significant information that an abduction has occurred could lead to abuse of the system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness." 

Law enforcement must believe the child is in "imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death" for an activation to occur, according to the DOJ. 

The availability of descriptive elements is also key. 

There must be enough information about the victim and the abduction for the alert to serve its purpose — to assist law enforcement in finding the child. 

When an Amber Alert is issued, the child's name and other critical information, including the Child Abduction flag, should be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. 

"Many plans do not mandate entry of the data into NCIC, but this omission undermines the entire mission of the Amber Alert initiative," the DOJ said. "The notation on the entry should be sufficient to explain the circumstances of the disappearance of the child." 

The Justice Department called this a "critical element of any effective Amber Alert plan." 

A list of active Amber Alerts can be found here.

Fingerprints left on a ransom note led police to missing 9-year-old
Fingerprints left on a ransom note led police to missing 9-year-old

Fingerprints left on a ransom note led police to missing 9-year-old

The note and fingerprints helped lead police to the suspect's residence, where Charlotte Sena was found hidden in a cabinet.

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