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CBC Indepth - Amber Alerts


Amber Alert FAQs

Gary Graves and Justin Thompson, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News Online, Updated October 21, 2003

Amber Hagerman
Amber Hagerman

What is Amber?
Amber is an alert system established in the United States – and since adopted in Canada – to publicize child abductions. It uses electronic highway signs and designated local broadcasters to announce the child's name and description, and the description of any vehicle suspected to be involved in the abduction. It's named after a Texas girl, Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and murdered near Dallas. The umbrella agency that oversees Amber has created the acronym for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response." The Hagerman murder remains unsolved.

How does Amber work?
When a child abduction occurs in a region where Amber is operating, police prepare an alert containing information such as the child's and/or abductor's description and other relevant information. A special press release is sent to television and radio stations designated as "Emergency Broadcasters" under the protocols set up during the Cold War. American broadcast regulations specify the stations must respond to this alert in a similar manner to dangerous weather warnings or other civil emergencies. Getting the alert on the air immediately is a priority, as time is a factor in safe child rescues. Radio stations interrupt programming; TV stations show a text "crawl" along the bottom of the screen. Roadside traffic pixel signs may show text or photos, depending on the technology.

How widespread is the Amber network in the U.S.?
In April 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush signed legislation to expand the Amber alert program countrywide. At the time of signing, 41 states already had Amber programs in place. As of July 2004, 49 states have statewide Amber Alert systems in place. The Honolulu Police Department has a similar program, but it is not statewide in Hawaii.

In the U.S., only the most serious cases of child abduction are reported to the FBI. Here are its recent statistics.
Year Cases
1999 134
2000 106
2001 93
2002 62 to June

What are the criteria for an alert?
Each jurisdiction that establishes an Amber system is free to do whatever it wants; this has led to some criticism. In the U.S., the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) suggests three criteria that should be met before activating an alert:

  • police can confirm a child abduction has occurred
  • officials believe the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death
  • there is enough information about the child and/or abductor(s) that an immediate alert will help

In Texas, for example, child custody disputes often don't qualify for an alert. Across that state, alerts are issued for children 17 and under. Locally, alerts may be issued for youth aged 15 and under. The priority is given to children abducted by strangers, since U.S. statistics show that in these cases children are in the gravest danger.

In some jurisdictions, Amber has been used to send alerts about missing people with Alzheimer's or other disabilities.

Holly Jones
Ten-year-old Holly Jones was abducted in Toronto on May 12, 2003. Her remains were found the next morning.

What are the benefits of Amber?
As of May 15, 2004, the Amber Alert program is credited with finding 154 children in the U.S. and Canada since the system's inception in 1997. Most of the results are anecdotal, as no direct statistics connecting the program to successful rescues have been kept. In some jurisdictions, Amber has been credited with what has been called "exceptionally fast" rescue of abducted children. In 2002, a child lured into a stolen ambulance was rescued within three hours of the alert being issued. Speed is a factor in child safety, as U.S. Justice Department statistics suggest that in cases of so-called "stranger abductions," children are three times as likely to be murdered, and often within the first six hours.

What are the criticisms of Amber?
James Alan Fox, a noted American expert on kidnapping and murder, wrote in The New York Times that the system has the potential to stir up mayhem such as vigilante hysteria and dangerous car chases. Also, he claims, too many alerts could water down their impact and create apathy.

Some police officials agree that with the power of Amber, less is Read More ..Fewer alerts and strict enforcement of guidelines mean that the public respond better because they understand alerts are issued only after serious consideration. Texas sheriff Dee Anderson has told The Dallas Morning News that his program had to tighten its rules for activating alerts after people complained that police had once issued six bulletins in five weeks. Now, a Texas police committee overseeing Amber sends reminder letters to departments that don't adhere to the guidelines.

A final criticism is that cases of child abduction classified as "very serious" by U.S. police appear to be on the decline, and that the Amber system is a lot of infrastructure for little return. However, the FBI warns that different jurisdictions have different reporting policies and, since the numbers are so similar from year to year, no trend can be inferred. But public perception, due to an abundance of media reports about individual cases and publicity over recent successes of the Amber system, has been that child abductions are widespread and frequent.

Associated Press logo

Woman convicted of killing 3 kids after custody battle


HELSINKI, Finland - A court in Finland has convicted a woman of murdering her three young children and has given her a life sentence.

The Espoo District Court says Thai-born Yu-Hsiu Fu was found guilty of strangling her 8-year-old twin daughters and 1-year-old son in her home.

She tried to kill herself afterward.

The verdict on Tuesday says the 41-year-old woman was found to be of sound mind at the time of the murders.

Court papers show the murders were preceded by a bitter custody battle with her Finnish husband who was living separately from her at the time of the murders.

A life sentence in Finland mean convicts usually serve at least 11 years in prison.

Canadian Press - New Brunswick woman ruled responsible in burning of baby's body

New Brunswick woman ruled responsible in burning of baby's body

ST. STEPHEN, N.B. - A New Brunswick judge says a woman who burned and dismembered her newborn son is criminally responsible for her actions.

Becky Sue Morrow earlier pleaded guilty to offering an indignity to a dead body and disposing of a newborn with the intent of concealing a delivery.

Judge David Walker ruled Friday that the 27-year-old woman may have been suffering from a mental disorder when she delivered the baby but that that was not the case when the baby's body was burned and its remains hidden.

It is not known if the baby was alive at the time of birth.

At a hearing last month, the court heard contrasting reports from the two psychiatrists. One said Ms. Morrow was in a "disassociated" mental state when the crime occurred. The other said she clearly planned her actions and understood the consequences.

Mothers Who Kill Their Children
Canadian Press - Mother child abuse - sentenced 16 years in jail

Ontario woman convicted of son's starvation death granted full parole

Canadian Press
Wednesday, May. 22, 2002

KINGSTON, Ont. (CP) -- An Ontario woman who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in one of Canada's stiffest penalties for child abuse will be released on full parole after serving less than half her term.

Lorelei Turner, 38, and her husband Steven were convicted of manslaughter in July 1995 for beating and starving their three-year-old son John to death in a case that horrified Canadians who followed the trial.

But on Wednesday, a panel of the National Parole Board in this eastern Ontario city ruled Turner will be released but placed on probation until July 2011.

Until then, she must remain within 25 kilometres of her residence, is not allowed unsupervised contact with anyone under 16, and must continue to receive counselling.

"The board would have looked at the risk and obviously found a low risk to reoffend," Carol Sparling of the National Parole Board said Wednesday.

Mainichi Daily News| Woman who cut off her newborn son's genitals handed 5-year prison term

Woman who cut off her newborn son's private parts handed 5-year prison term

Mainichi Daily News, Sakai, Osaka, Japan, November 26, 2006

SAKAI, Osaka -- A woman accused of cutting off her newborn son's private parts in 2004 was ordered Monday to spend five years behind bars.

The Sakai branch of the Osaka District Court convicted Shizue Tamura, 27, a resident of Izumi, Osaka Prefecture, of inflicting bodily injury.

"The way she committed the crime was unprecedented, inhumane and cruel," Presiding Judge Masahiro Hosoi said as he handed down the ruling. Prosecutors had demanded an eight-year prison term.  Read More ..

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Health Canada

Aggressive Girls
Overview Paper

This overview paper summarizes recent research on girls who exhibit aggressive and violent behaviours. It defines relevant terms, outlines factors which may contribute to girls' aggression and violence, and presents ideas for preventing these behaviours. A list of resources is also included. 2002, 13p.