Cybele K. Daley, Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
AMBER Alert National Conference
AMBER Alert and Border Issues
July 21, 2006
Thank you, Ron [Laney]. I'm glad to finally have a chance to say something more than "welcome" and "back to Ron."
It's a pleasure to be here at this session focusing on AMBER Alert and border issues. As Assistant Attorney General Schofield mentioned on Tuesday, guarding against abductions across our national borders is one of our top priorities in the Office of Justice Programs.
Many of you have had to deal with the challenges of a trans-national abduction, and you know just how frustrating and problematic they can be. From the difficulties in notifying international authorities to the complexities of extradition, there is nothing easy about recovering a child who has been taken across the border.
We can't change international law, but we can prevent our borders from inviting abductions. That's what you're here to talk about today.
Assistant Attorney General [Regina B.] Schofield told you about some good work being done in El Paso, Texas. Law enforcement officials there have worked closely with the State Judicial Police in Chihuahua. When a child is abducted and taken into Mexico, their version of AMBER Alert is activated using a system for finding children and missing adult women.
This system provides a one-stop resource where law enforcement agencies in south Texas can send AMBER Alerts. U.S. authorities can reciprocate by issuing regional alerts whenever a child is reported missing from Mexico.
This system has been used successfully in a couple of cases, including one involving a girl all the way from Indiana.
Other states have had to activate AMBER for international abductions. The Assistant Attorney General mentioned the triple-homicide and abduction case in Arizona. Local and federal law enforcement officials worked with Mexican authorities and were able to capture the fugitive within a day.
But even in that case, Mexican police had detained then released him earlier before word could get to them about the abduction.
Fortunately, thanks to the excellent work of all the law enforcement officers involved - U.S. and Mexican - the children were safely recovered and returned to their mother. But for the coordination and fast action of the police in both countries, I could easily be telling you story with a different and tragic ending.
Authorities in southern California also are doing some terrific work. The San Diego Police Department and the San Diego Sheriff's Office have developed a model partnership with their Mexican counterparts. Officials in six California counties communicate with police across the border using Nextel cell phones. San Diego law enforcement also provide training to Mexican police, and they have established an International Liaison Officers Association.
I understand that partnership is represented here at this conference. I want to thank those officials who could join us, and I want to applaud them for their innovation.
Speaking of California, Lieutenant L.D. Maples from the California Highway Patrol told us about no less than six cases involving abductors fleeing into Mexico. One of those cases involved a registered sex offender who abducted an eight-year-old girl from Nevada.
The Lyon County Sheriff's Office requested that an AMBER Alert be issued for the San Diego region. A lieutenant from that office by the name of John Arndell and an FBI special agent named John Ginocchio worked with the California Highway Patrol and the Mexican Federal Police to track down the abductor.
Acting on a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Lieutenant Arndell and Special Agent Ginocchio found the suspect and the girl in Mexico. They arrested him and reunited the girl with her mother. The abductor was tried and sentenced to 17 years in a Mexican federal prison.
We had the privilege of helping Attorney General Gonzales honor those two exceptional officers at the National Missing Children's Day ceremony back in May.
I'm extremely grateful that we have officers like Lieutenant Arndell and Agent Ginocchio to protect our children. There is no replacement for the kind of dedication and determination that they displayed. But wouldn't it be nice if they could count on a seamless system of notification with their counterparts across the border?
That is something that we in the Office of Justice Programs would like to help bring to pass. And it is something we want to work with you to address.
We're doing this through our AMBER Alert working group. The group includes representatives from both the Mexican police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And we've been talking about ways to make AMBER Alert more adaptable to international abductions.
Our friends in Canada are very committed to the AMBER Alert program and to working closely with us. Every province now has an AMBER system, and by all accounts, the states along our northern border enjoy a very good relationship with their Canadian counterparts.
Captain Mark Bethke with the North Dakota State Patrol says that Canadian authorities are automatically notified whenever an AMBER Alert is activated in his state. And a memorandum of understanding is in place between officials in North Dakota and Manitoba.
And New York State Police extol their colleagues on the other side of the Peace Bridge.
The issues surrounding international abductions are very complex. Suffice it to say that the local authorities who issue an AMBER alert have limited ability to investigate cases that cross borders.
To be sure, they have options for pursuing abductors and recovering children - whether under the Hague Convention or through federal resources. But those efforts must be closely coordinated with federal officials, not to mention with foreign authorities.
I know you have already had a productive discussion about the issues in your sessions this morning. And you'll continue those discussions after lunch.
Please bear in mind during your breakouts that we are looking to you for your guidance in this area. Our role at the Office of Justice Programs, and Assistant Attorney General Schofield's role as the national coordinator, is to make sure that you have the best information for developing effective AMBER responses.
That information comes primarily from you, and it comes out of an exchange of ideas between you and your colleagues here.
Keep in mind, also, that the Attorney General wants to know what he can do to help you. So if you will keep us informed, we can keep him informed.
I look forward to sitting in on the remainder of your sessions, and to hearing what we can do to support you in your work.
Thank you, and have a good afternoon session.