Ten tribal sites selected to help expand national Amber Alert program

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WASHINGTON - The Department of Justice announced Sept. 14 that 10 tribal sites have been selected to serve as pilot communities as part of the department's Amber Alert in Indian Country Initiative. The 10 areas will serve as demonstration sites for other American Indian communities to help expand the Amber (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert program into Indian county and bridge the gap between tribal communities and state and regional programs across the country.

''Tribes can play an important role in strengthening our Amber Alert network,'' said Regina Schofield, National Amber Alert coordinator and assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs. ''The pilot sites will serve as models for other tribal communities working to develop Amber Alert plans so that children in Indian country can benefit from the Amber Alert network.''

The communities selected to participate in the initiative are the Acoma, Hopi, Laguna and Zuni pueblos; the Choctaw Nation; the Crow Nation; the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; the Gila River Indian Community; the Navajo Nation; the Northern Arapaho Tribe; the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community; the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska; and the Yakama Nation.

The Amber Alert in Indian Country Initiative grew out of talks in 2006 between tribal leaders and the Justice Department about expanding the Amber Alert program. The initiative aims to assist tribal communities in the development and implementation of Amber Alert plans, and support the recovery of missing and abducted children by providing interoperability, infrastructure and equipment resources to meet the specific needs of tribal communities.

Amber Alerts are emergency messages broadcast when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger. The broadcasts include information about the child and the abductor, including physical descriptions as well as information about the abductor's vehicle, which could lead to the child's recovery. Amber Alerts are also available to wireless users who can opt to receive geographically-specified messages on their wireless devices or cell phones through an Amber Alert wireless messaging system.

The PROTECT Act established the national Amber Alert coordinator role. Schofield was appointed to serve as the national Amber Alert coordinator and a national strategy to create a seamless national network of alert systems has followed. More than 90 percent of the 360 recoveries of abducted children have occurred since Amber Alert became a nationally coordinated effort. All 50 states have statewide Amber Alert plans in place so that all levels of state law enforcement know when a child is abducted.

The Amber Alert program began in Texas in 1996 when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed up with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children, in memory of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas, who was abducted while riding her bicycle and later found murdered.

More information can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov.