How does an Amber Alert work?

Posted at 12:21 PM, Jun 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-28 13:21:40-04

Last night, a car was stolen outside a Jeanerette church – and there was a baby inside. 

It was about 11:15 p.m. – but the Amber Alert didn’t go out until almost 3 a.m. – and it didn’t go out until after the baby had been found safe. 

Luckily, good old-fashioned police work resulted in the recovery of the baby, who was found safe in the stolen car. 

But viewers are asking why it took so long for the Amber Alert to go out. 

Amber Alerts are controlled by the U.S. Department of Justice, and are administered in Louisiana by State Police. Amber Alerts are only sent in cases that meet the criterion set for them. Although each state sets its own criteria, the DOJ has basic guidelines. 

Those guidelines require: 

  • 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.

Sgt. Jared Sandifer of LSP said there’s a lot of information that must be gathered and verified before an alert is issued. A detailed procedure also must be followed, using the proper forms, etc. Basically, certain information must be gathered, and certain criteria must be met, and all of this communicated to State Police; then State Police issues the actual alert. You can read that procedure here

"There are a lot of moving parts to these investigations, and we’re usually not the investigating agency," Sandifer said. "We gather the information from them as we get it, and put it into the format that meets the guidelines for Amber Alert."

Sandifer pointed out that Amber Alerts are for the public, not law enforcement. 

"The Amber Alert is to make the public aware of an abduction. It’s a tool to help law enforcement," Sandifer said. "We have to gather information, and we have to make sure it is correct information. In most cases, the investigating agency already has made other law enforcement aware."

In this case, according to the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, a regional alert already had been sent out to law enforcement agencies in the area and direct contact was made with agencies in the areas through which the car was believed to be traveling. 

"We were tracking credit cards, and contacting agencies and businesses," said Major Wendell Rayborn of the Iberia Sheriff’s Office. "We were trying to nail down where he was going and if the baby was still in the car. Until they told us they had the baby and he was safe, we were still searching roads, businesses, locations along the highway. That was our biggest concern – that he had dumped the baby." 

It was that police work that located the stolen car at a New Orleans business, Rayborn said. Deputies called the business, NOLA police and State Police, who surrounded the business and recovered the car and the child. 

"State Police and New Orleans Police responded really quickly," Rayborn said. "We’re all standing around our radios, waiting, like a bunch of expectant fathers. We had to wait for them to come on the radio and tell us that they had him, and that he was safe. 

"That was really good to hear." 

Sandifer said State Police is always evaluating response times and procedures, in an effort to see how things can be improved. 

"We strive to put out information as quickly as we can, but we also want it to be correct information," Sandifer said.