McGrath Debuts AMBER Alert System
HELENA – Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath announced the activation of a Montana AMBER Alert child abduction recovery plan Tuesday at a press conference at the Department of Justice. McGrath was joined by Rep. Chris Harris (D-Bozeman), John Onstad of the Montana Lottery and representatives of the Montana Broadcasters Association and local law enforcement.
“With hope, we’ll never need to use the AMBER Alert system,” McGrath said, “but thanks to the cooperation of law enforcement, broadcasters, the Montana Lottery and the information technology and criminal investigation staff members of the Department of Justice, the system is now in place.”
The AMBER Alert plan began in the Dallas/Forth Worth area in response to the 1996 abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman. Across the nation, 37 states have full-state participation and many others have regional or citywide plans.
Here’s how the Montana plan works:
- Local law enforcement receives a report of an abducted child and local law enforcement investigates.
- The child must be 17 or younger or be physically or mentally handicapped. He or she must be in imminent danger of serious injury or death.
- The investigating officer contacts the Information Technology Services Division (ITSD) of the Department of Justice and requests the assistance of the Division of Criminal Investigation.
- Once the local and state investigators confirm that the case meets AMBER Alert criteria, the alert is activated.
- Available information — descriptions of the child and abductor, motor vehicle information and/or photographs — is relayed to the public via television and radio broadcasters, the Criminal Justice Information Network, the Department of Justice website and the terminals of the Montana Lottery.
- The alert will include a toll-free telephone number to call with tips or sightings.
“I want to emphasize that the AMBER plan is restricted to life-threatening child abduction cases,” McGrath said, noting that local law enforcement agencies must recommend the activation of the plan. “The new system is not used to track runaways or children involved in custody disputes.”
He added, however, that the Department of Justice website now includes a section on the Montana Missing Person Clearinghouse, with a link to a list of missing Montana school-aged children.