SIKESTON -- Several local law enforcement agencies, along with Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, gathered Wednesday at the Sikeston Clinton Building to discuss the Amber Alert system currently being developed for the area.
"This summer many of us watched the news and learned of children across the country who were kidnapped or abducted in communities just like this," Nixon said. "Well, we've also heard of success stories where law enforcement enlisted the public by using an Amber Alert system to recover abducted children and their abductors."
Last month Nixon's office sent every police and sheriff's department in the state background information to assist local communities in establishing an Amber Alert program. Communities implement this program on a voluntary and local basis.
Amber (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert system is designed to get the word out about missing children as quickly as possible via law enforcement agencies and the news media.
"Recently, it became obvious to us as law enforcement agencies that one of the things we were lacking in our policies was a policy or procedure dealing with abducted children or adults," said Drew Juden, Sikeston Department of Public Safety director.
A child's greatest enemy is often time, Nixon added. According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, 74 percent of kidnapped children who are later found murdered are killed within the first three hours after their abduction.
Scott County Sheriff Bill Ferrell discussed a case that has hit home for him regarding the Amber system.
In April 1979, Ferrell was in Jefferson City when he received a call that a 19-year-old girl was abducted from a gas station in Scott City. He immediately came home and admitted he was driving too fast in an unmarked car when he got pulled over by another law enforcer.
The other officer wondered why he hadn't been notified of the abduction, Ferrell said. If law enforcers would've had the Amber plan then, the man would've known about the incident, Ferrell said.
"The point is, with the Amber system, I wouldn't have gotten stopped for speeding and someone would have known what to look for and to be suspicious," Ferrell said.
Local law enforcement agencies are still in the development phase of Amber Alert, Juden said. It's their goal to have a policy in place no later than the end of this year or the first of next year, he added.
"It's something we hope we never have to use, but if we do, we want to make sure we have a cooperative effort between all of the current law enforcement agencies," Juden said.
One thing law enforcement agencies want to make sure of is that their hands don't get tied by legislation at the state or federal level -- that they still have the ability to issue alerts of people who are missing, Juden said.
"It's going to be very important that we have large number of highly trained, highly skilled investigators, which will come from the major case squad," Juden said. "We'll need them to answer Amber Alert calls and to be able to put officers who will respond to leads, tips and other information so that we can bring them to a successful conclusion."
One of the law enforcement agencies' biggest challenges is the area's geographic location, Juden said. "We're within an hour of four other states and means we will have to cover other states also, which is why it will take time to get policy and procedure into place and developed. Once we do have it developed, we will share it with other law enforcement agencies."
In addition to the local law enforcement program, Nixon said the basis of AMBER's success is to have key criteria. The key criteria are: law enforcement confirms the child's abduction; law enforcement believes the circumstances surrounding the abduction indicate the child is in danger of serious or bodily harm; and there must be enough descriptive information about the child, the abductor and the suspect's vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast alert will help the case.
Amber Alert doesn't just let the public know of a child abduction, it enlists the public in the search and recovery of that child, Nixon explained.
"With cooperation from all area departments, it will work for us," Ferrell insisted. "Let people know about the program, and if they have information, they'll tell us. They'll call us."