How Michigan State Police determine if missing child cases require an Amber Alert
Police evaluate each missing child case separately
Every week in Michigan, 1,000 children are missing. There are several different types of missing children cases, including runaways and parental abductions, and each case is evaluated separately.
Amber Alerts are urgent bulletins that interrupt radio and television broadcasting and send wireless emergency alerts to cellphones. They are only issued for abductions of children who are under 18 years old and are in danger.
Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Sarah Krebs works in the missing persons coordination unit.
"I think the biggest misconception with the public is every time a child goes missing that it's an Amber Alert situation, and it's actually very rare that cases get put into the Amber Alert status," Krebs said.
Other cases use an endangered missing advisory, which has no age restriction and can be issued for children or adults. In those cases, law enforcement agencies notify the media about the missing person. Unlike during an Amber Alert, there is no emergency alert system to interrupt broadcasting on radio or television, and there is no alert sent to cellphones.
"That's why it's a hard job, and I get a lot of pressure to put an alert out on every kid that goes missing. But could you imagine just the volume of them that are going out?" Krebs said. "We really have to have criteria in place to decide what ones get an alert and what ones do not."
Parents should know their rights when reporting missing person cases.
"I want to really stress to parents that law enforcement has to take the report of a missing child. They can't turn you away. They can't tell you that this has happened too often and that they're not going to take the case anymore," Krebs said.
Krebs said children who are 18, 19 and 20 years old fall under Suzanne's Law, which was created to protect college students when they are reported missing. The law basically extends the age of a missing child to 21. That way, they cannot be considered an adult, and a report must be taken.
If a parent still gets turned away by a law enforcement agency, they can call the Michigan Children's Clearing House, which is run by the Michigan State Police. The clearing house presents law enforcement agencies with actual laws and makes sure the case is taken. It is also an information and referral source for the public and for law enforcement agencies.
The number for the Michigan Children's Clearing House is 517-582-1154 or 517-241-8000.
Another avenue is The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
"That is a crucial step in a case of a missing child that goes somewhat long term. The national center can provide not only assistance with the law enforcement investigation but they can provide assistance to the actual family," Krebs said. "The family can be the caller that has them intake their case and that's a step that sometimes law enforcement isn't even doing, so if a parent can be proactive to do that for the investigation, that can be helpful."
Krebs said social media is becoming a powerful tool to help with missing person cases. She cautions, however, on how it should be used.
Posts about missing persons should have contact information for law enforcement agencies only, and should never include personal phone numbers of parents or loved ones. She has seen families get scammed for ransom and other problems when their personal information is included.
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