AMBER alerts fall 43% nationally

When the system launched in 1996 “AMBER alerts were going off constantly,” said Ohio State Highway Patrol Capt. Robert Jackson.

“It became like a car alarm, and what do people do when they hear a car alarm? The AMBER Alert was getting that way across the country.”

The decrease in activations — there were only 158 across the country last year — was chronicled in the 2011 AMBER Alert Report issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

In 2011, half of all AMBER alerts were classified as family abductions.

The AMBER Alert plan is a voluntary partnership among law enforcement agencies, broadcasters and transportation agencies to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The 2011 report stated that Ohio ranked fourth in the U.S. for the number of AMBER Alerts activated last year, with 11. Ohio, whose AMBER Alert program started in 2002, has had five alerts so far in 2012.

The three states that had the most alerts in 2011 were California (16), Michigan (15) and Texas (14).

Ohio was one of eight states that had their activations extend outside the state. Yearly activations in Ohio have remained under 13 since 2007, according to OSP. Ohio at one point had more than 20 activations in a year, Jackson said.

Jackson said law enforcement officers have been trained better about when to initiate an AMBER alert versus a missing child alert.

“When folks hear the AMBER Alert System, they realize it is a true AMBER Alert and they take action right now,” Jackson said.

AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. It is named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas, whose body was discovered in a creek three miles from her home after she had been missing for four days.

AMBER Alert systems differ across the nation in that some alerts are just state-wide and some start out as regional alerts.

In the region the last activations issued were one last year in Montgomery County and one in Hamilton County, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Last July, an alert was issued for 2-year-old DeWayne Wills Jr. in Montgomery County after his father, DeWayne Wills Sr., 39, snatched him out of a church van on Cornell Drive. SWAT and hostage negotiators eventually arrested Wills after a standoff at a house on Otterbein Avenue. The toddler was returned to his mother.

In Montgomery County, the sheriff’s office makes the decision on whether an alert needs to be made, but police jurisdictions can seek other options from the state if they disagree with the sheriff’s office decision not to put out an alert.

“Any law enforcement agency in Hamilton County can activate their own AMBER Alert and they would all go through the Hamilton County Communication Center except for the Cincinnati Police Department,” said Steve Barnett, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2414 or kelli.wynn@coxinc.com.

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