I-Team: Strict standards in place to issue Amber Alerts

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- With the search for Mariah Woods still underway, the ABC11 I-Team is going beyond the headline to answer questions about other missing children and the Amber Alert process.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, active cases remain for at least 66 missing children in North Carolina, including Woods, who was last seen on November 26. Still, state officials sounded Amber Alerts just 11 times so far in 2017.

"If you issue too many alarms, the public's attention span decreases," Sgt. Mike Baker, with the North Carolina Highway Patrol, explains to ABC11. "When people are driving on the highway or watching the news at home we want to make sure that Amber Alert draws their attention.

Created in 1996, the Amber Alert was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl from Arlington, TX, who was abducted and found dead in a pond four days later. Officially, the alert is a voluntary tool used by law enforcement agencies across the country, but only on a regional basis. While the first alerts were broadcast on televisions and radios, Amber Alerts have gained more prominence with the prevalence of cell phones, and in 2013 agencies started issuing automatic alerts through the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program, instantly growing the alert's reach by millions.

The U.S. Department of Justice lists five recommendations for law enforcement agencies to consider before issuing an Amber Alert:

  • There is 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.

National data counts 179 Amber Alerts issued in 2016 involving 231 children, including 10 alerts in North Carolina (5th most among states); the data also shows that 42% of children involved were white, while 57% were minorities. Of the 179 alerts in 2016, only 4% (8 cases) were found to be a hoax, while 7% (13) were considered unfounded.

In its 21 years of operation, Amber Alerts have ensured the safe recovery of at least 867 children.

Click here for more on how to sign up to receive Amber Alerts through a variety of websites including AOL, Facebook, Google, MySpace and Yahoo!.
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