STATE—Attorney General Paula T. Dow today announced a revised AMBER Alert plan designed to provide law enforcement officials with clear criteria to determine when they should activate the emergency broadcast system to seek public assistance in locating a child who was recently abducted and is believed to be in danger, including family abductions.
The Attorney General announced the revised plan at the New Jersey State Police’s Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (ROIC), where alerts are disseminated to the broadcast media following a reported child abduction.
Dow directed that the AMBER Alert plan be re-evaluated and that clearer criteria be developed in the wake of the tragic death of Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem, who allegedly was thrown from the Driscoll Bridge on Feb. 16 by her biological father. The father has been charged with murder. Local police issued an emergency notification to law enforcement agencies regarding the abduction, but did not request the State Police to activate the AMBER Alert System. It was learned that the criteria previously established were not clear enough regarding family abduction cases, leading some to believe that an AMBER Alert was not to be activated in a family abduction case.
Given the timeline of the abduction of Zara, as established by the evidence gathered in the case, investigators have concluded that it is unlikely that an AMBER Alert issued after the baby’s mother called police would have led to the rescue of the baby. However, the case highlighted the need for revisions to New Jersey’s AMBER Alert plan.
“The relationship between the suspected abductor and the child is a relevant factor to consider in gauging the risk of harm to the child,” said Attorney General Dow. “However, it is vitally important to make clear to all law enforcement officials that an AMBER Alert may be activated by the State Police in a case involving an abduction by a family member if there is reason to believe the child may be in danger. These changes to our AMBER Alert plan will serve to better protect children in New Jersey.”
The AMBER Alert system is a voluntary, cooperative program that establishes a partnership between the law enforcement community and the broadcast media. The program is named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl from Arlington, Texas, who was abducted and brutally murdered.
“The key to a successful AMBER Alert plan is to have in place clearly defined criteria that law enforcement officials can use in exercising their discretion whether to request the media to interrupt regular television and radio broadcasts and issue an emergency notification,” said Division of Criminal Justice Director Stephen Taylor.
While the U.S. Department of Justice offers guidance and recommendations on the criteria to be used in issuing an AMBER Alert, there are no uniform national standards. Each state is responsible for developing its own activation criteria.
With the revised plan, the State Police have developed a training program for all appropriate law enforcement personnel, including 9-1-1 operators, to identify the questions that should be posed to a person who is reporting a family abduction. In addition, the State Police have created a worksheet to help identify and document facts used to determine whether it is appropriate to activate an alert.
“This new policy will be accompanied by new training for dispatchers, including specific questions that dispatchers will address to those reporting abductions in order to gain a clearer picture of the circumstances,” said State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes.
The revised AMBER Alert plan takes effect immediately.
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