Cybele K. Daley, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Amber Alert National Conference Luncheon
November 14, 2007
Thank you, Ron.
Good afternoon, everyone. I hope the conference is going well. I’ve had a chance to talk to a number of you this morning, and I’ve heard some of the good work being done in several states and communities. A few of you also have shared some good ideas about where we should be going with the AMBER Alert network. I’ve never thought of this crowd as a shy bunch. I appreciate that your wheels are always spinning. That’s why AMBER has been so successful – because you’ve never allowed yourselves to become complacent. You’re always looking for ways to make things work better. I encourage you in your creative restlessness.
I mentioned this morning that credit for AMBER’s effectiveness goes to all of you in the field – AMBER coordinators, broadcasters, law enforcement and transportation officials, and our ever-growing contingent of private- and public-sector partners. I always make it a point to emphasize that AMBER Alert is not a federal program. Federal workers are not making determinations about when to send out an AMBER Alert. They’re not the ones issuing the alerts. And only infrequently are they the ones pursuing abductors, recovering abducted children, and bringing those children home to their families.
We feds are famous for our loyalty to rules and procedures. And when things don’t neatly follow the rules, we can be a bit, well, obstinate. That generally serves us well, but when it comes to responding to a missing child, red tape has its drawbacks. As we all know, sometimes it’s necessary to stretch the tape. Let me give you an example.
On February 11th of last year, 14-year-old Deidre
Michuda was taken from her home in Minneapolis by her non-custodial father. He was a convicted child molester known to have weapons in his possession. An AMBER Alert was issued and remained on throughout the night, but Deidre was not found.
By morning of the following day, the period of activation had expired. But acting on a hunch, Todd Kramascz, who works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, decided to reactivate the alert during morning rush hour. As it happens, a used-car dealer saw the new alert and recognized the vehicle as one that he had bought the night before from a man who was accompanied by a young girl.
The dealer remembered that the suspect had mentioned something about taking a bus, so he called authorities, and police later found the man and the girl at a bus stop near the Mall of America. Deidre was safely recovered and returned to her home.
Had Todd played it strictly by the rules and not listened to his instincts, who knows what might have happened to Deidre?
My point is that the entrenched, rule-bound way of doing business has its limits, and we should be glad that people like Todd Kramascz are thinking of children’s safety over blind adherence to protocol.
Diedre Michuda was one of 69 children safely recovered in 2006 thanks to AMBER Alert. And I’m certain that many of those recoveries were due to the instincts, adaptability, and perseverance of people in the AMBER Alert network. Perseverance and adaptability are what define AMBER Alert – whether it’s a transportation official like Todd Kramascz going the extra mile, a broadcaster like Bob Fisher plugging AMBER at every opportunity, or a law enforcement official like Mark Simpson carrying his work on behalf of children into his retirement.
They, and so many others like them, are the reason AMBER Alert is what it is today.
I realize I’m being tough on my federal colleagues. (Ron says he’s used to it.) In truth, OJP and other federal staff who work in the area of child protection are anything but typical bureaucrats. They are as committed as anyone to keeping children safe, and they act on that commitment.
That’s why we’ve been able to create technology standards for AMBER Alerts, so that state and local officials can make the best decisions when designing their alert systems.
That’s why we’ve been able to issue guidelines on effective uses of dynamic messaging, so that transportation officials can maximize their resources on behalf of abducted children.
That’s why we’ve been able to bring you training and networking opportunities like this conference, so that all our AMBER partners are ideally equipped to respond to child abduction emergencies.
And that’s why we’ve been able to expand our safety net through programs like our Child Abduction Response Teams effort, which takes the spirit of AMBER and infuses it into other child protection efforts.
It’s also a big reason we now have a strong AMBER Alert network.
It’s been five years since President Bush called for national coordination of AMBER Alert systems. And it’s remarkable to think of the progress we have made in those five years.
Before we began to coordinate nationally, only four states had AMBER plans in place, and 34 children had been recovered over six years.
After the President’s charge, the remaining 46 states came on board within 2½ years, and 331 safe recoveries have been made since then. I might add that those are only the recoveries that can be directly attributed to AMBER Alert. If you consider all cases in which an AMBER Alert was issued, and take into account cases where the link between the recovery and the alert wasn’t clearly established, more than 1,100 children have been recovered since 2004.
So AMBER Alert has grown dramatically in size. But it also has grown in dimension, thanks mainly to our secondary distribution efforts.
Secondary distribution has become a vital component of AMBER Alert. According to NCMEC, almost three-quarters of AMBER Alerts issued in 2006 benefited from secondary distribution. And the participation of secondary distributors like wireless companies and online service providers will only continue to grow.
As I mentioned this morning, just in the last year, two major partners have signed on – the popular social networking site, MySpace, and the Transportation Security Administration. Under its agreement with NCMEC, MySpace will relay AMBER Alerts to all users within the zip codes covered by the alerts. Not since the Wireless AMBER Alerts Initiative was launched two-and-a-half years ago have we seen such an expansion of AMBER’s reach.
And the agreement with TSA extends AMBER into our nation’s airports, and will help to cut off yet another escape route for abductors.
Taking AMBER into airports begs the question of international abductions. Sorting out matters of cross-border jurisdictional authority can be extremely complicated, but criminals don’t have to worry about that. Their only concern is with evading law enforcement. Anything that impedes the law enforcement response is a boon to them. We can’t let it be.
We devoted much of last year’s conference to addressing trans-border issues. We’ve had some success, too, both with officials in Mexico and with our friends at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who have been right there with us on AMBER. I understand that not long after last year’s conference, authorities in Alberta, one of the provinces in western Canada, issued an alert that extended all the way to Newfoundland, way to the east. So Canadian officials are having to deal with the same issues we’re facing here with regard to interstate abductions. We’re continuing our dialogue and planning with the RCMP, and we continue to work with Mexican police to ensure that our borders aren’t doorways to freedom for abductors.
Fortunately, we’ve made great progress in speeding our response to transnational and interstate abductions. We’re also making inroads with our tribal partners.
As many of you know all too well, our relationship with tribes is characterized by issues that are just as complex as, if not more complex than, issues of international jurisdiction. But we can’t let those things get in the way of helping a child in danger.
In September, we selected 10 tribal sites to serve as pilot communities as part of our AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative. The 10 sites will serve as models for other tribal communities working to develop AMBER Alert plans.
And I should also mention that in August, the Navajo Nation became the first tribe to host a Child Abduction Response Team training. The Navajo Nation covers some 27,000 square miles, which is an area larger than many eastern states. There’s no question that having resources like CARTs and AMBER Alert are critical to public safety there.
I’ve given you just a snapshot of how far we’ve come with AMBER Alert over the last five years. But I want to make sure that we build on that progress, taking what has worked and applying it wherever we can. I challenge you to think of new, innovative strategies to expand the AMBER Alert network. Are there ways to adapt new technologies to our work? Are there other potential partners we should be involving? We need to be thinking daily about how we can move AMBER forward so that it’s as effective as it can possibly be.
I’m proud of the work we’ve done together, and I hope that you will continue to see OJP as your partners in child protection. Feed us your thoughts and ideas. We’re not the ones who make AMBER Alert work, you are. But we can be an asset by helping you to work with each other in building the strongest AMBER program possible.
I want to thank you all for your time, and I want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to the AMBER Alert network and to the safety of our children.