Carri Gordon is the gate keeper of sorts for Washington’s Amber Alert system. She oversees the technology used to send out the alerts as part of the Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit inside WSP. Gordon explains, “We were actually the first state in the country to develop the web alerting portal system. Law enforcement can enter amber alerts into a web portal and it will distribute it simultaneously to any subscriber to the web portal.”
That increases the effectiveness as information can get to more places faster. But of the eleven hundred children or so said to be missing in Washington State on any given day, only a small percentage have made it into an amber alert in the past ten years. “If I were to estimate, I would say right around fifty. There are usually less than ten a year. No more than ten. That criteria being as strict as it is will limit the amber alerts that you receive to those that are most critical,” Gordon said.
The criteria is that children need to be 17-years of age or younger for an ambler alert to be issued. An abduction needs to be verified and preferably listed within four hours. Also, there needs to be enough description to make the alert effective and it must be investigated and implemented by law enforcement. And Gordon says there’s one other thing. “There needs to be enough information to believe the child is in danger. So there has to be an endangerment factor of some kind.”
If this criteria isn’t met, but there’s a person in harm’s way, then an endangered missing person’s advisory may be issued. It’s similar to an amber alert except you won’t see those on any road signs and unless you’ve signed up for it, it won’t show up on your phone either. Gordon says that’s something that some people would prefer, “I think the primary question that I get asked from the public or the feedback that I receive from the public, ‘why is the information being forced on us’. ‘Why is my TV being interrupted? Why is my cell phone going off when I didn’t sign up for this? The message that I try to get is that, if this were your child or your family member, wouldn’t you want the same amount of attention paid?”
Across the United States, there have been over 600 successful recoveries from Amber Alerts so far, but Carri sees the kids who don’t make an alert and says those are the ones who she remembers most.
ACROSS THE U.S. , THERE HAVE BEEN OVER 600 SUCCESSFUL RECOVERIES FROM AMBER ALERTS SO FAR, BUT CARRI SEES THE KIDS WHO DON’T MAKE AN ALERT AND SAYS THOSE ARE THE ONES WHO SHE REMEMBERS MOST. “I think what stands out to me are the ones that I get asked a lot of why there wasn’t an amber alert issued. More so than the ones that are successful recoveries. The incidents where the kids are not found safe… those are the ones that stick with me the most.”
Gordon adds that within the next 18 months, Amber alerts in our state could become county specific instead of an automatic statewide, meaning that if you’re not in the area of the missing child or where they may be headed, you won’t receive an alert.