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Certain criteria must be met to trigger an Amber Alert

When there is a missing person situation, specifically one involving a child, you may receive an Amber Alert on your mobile phone. These widespread, specialized notifications are intended to involve the community-at-large in the search for a missing person, but the process to distribute them is intense.

As Utica Police Sergeant Michael Curley described, Amber Alerts are the most sophisticated mechanism for issuing an alert for a missing person.

“There has to be two specific criteria: One, the child has to be abducted, and two, the child needs to be in immediate harm, whether by the abductor or some other form of harm,” Curley said.

What You Need To Know

  • There is certain criteria for an Amber Alert to be issued
  • Utica Police say they have to quickly and thoroughly investigate the veracity of a claim before taking the next steps toward an Amber Alert
  • The investigations are crucial because some reports are hoaxes

Once a report comes in, police scramble to thoroughly verify the claims.

“You don’t want to jump right to an Amber Alert, one, to ensure the veracity of the claims that are being provided to you of the child being missing are true, and two, that there is a danger present to that child that went missing,” said Curley.

Once the investigation into the claim is exhausted, a Generalized Missing Persons report has to be filed. The New York State Special Victims Unit is contacted, given information about the situation, and then they determine if an Amber Alert will be issued.

“Right away, we try to do a neighborhood canvas of any kind of witnesses, surveillance video… any kind of tangible evidence that we can locate on that scene, and we start our investigation,” Curley said.

The recent Amber Alert Curley’s colleague, Sergeant Dzenan Sabanovic, responded to turned out to have been initiated by a false report.

“The primary issue that we had in this particular case was at the end, it was a contrived story that brought a lot of resources to bear that left the community at whole in a dangerous situation, because the manpower issue dealt with this particular case was not available to address other issues going on in the city,” Curley said.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 10 Amber Alerts involving 10 children across the country were determined to be hoaxes in 2020.

Curley said multiple missing child reports come into the police department each day, but rarely meet the criteria for an Amber Alert.


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