Phones went off across Minnesota Saturday lunchtime as the Amber Alert relating to the abduction of Alayna Ertl was sent out by authorities.
The body of the 5 year old was found later that afternoon, around 4:20 p.m. in Cass County, after it was first noticed she was missing at 8 a.m. that same morning from her home in Watkins, Minnesota. (To read Monday’s update to the case, click here.)
There have been comments made in response to the incident about the length of time it took for an Amber Alert to be issued after her family noticed she was missing.
BringMeTheNews spoke to Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze, who explained that certain criteria have to be met before an Amber Alert can be issued via the Minnesota Crime Alert Network.
Cruze said his department was informed of the then suspected abduction just before 10 a.m., and at 10:30 a.m. he called the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to start the process of sending out the Amber Alert.
But the alerts didn’t arrive until around 1:30 p.m., and that’s because police had to fulfill a series of criteria before one could be sent out.
“We needed to ensure the child hadn’t just walked away, or gone to a neighbors’ house,” he added. “It was an unwitnessed event which adds time to it, we needed to verify the identity of the suspect.”
“The focus of our investigation was locating the child, identifying a suspect and suspect vehicle, and getting public to help us. We were focused on locating her,” he said, noting that this adds time to the process before an alert can be issued.
Authorities want Amber Alerts to be used sparingly so that people sit up and take notice when they do get issued, hence the criteria that need to be met by investigators.
The more they are used, it’s argued, the less effective they become. Prior to Saturday, there had been 30 Amber Alerts issued, and in every case the child was located, according to the BCA.
“Obviously we would hope to immediately get that out [the Amber Alert],” Sheriff Cruze said.
What are the guidelines?
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has a checklist for when Amber Alerts can be issued in suspected child abduction cases, the most basic of which is that the person abducted must be under 17 years old or younger.
Police must believe the children are in imminent danger or serious harm or death, and if they believe this, they have to provide the following information to the BCA:
When/where child was abducted
Description of child
Description of abductor
Description of vehicle, if involved
Last known direction of travel
Is there reason to believe the suspect has a relationship to the victim
Number to contact for general information/questions
After this information is provided, it is reviewed by the BCA to check if it meets the criteria, with additional information and photographs gathered if necessary.
If it doesn’t meet the criteria, a crime alert will be issued instead.
As the DPS page says: “Law enforcement should carefully consider not activating the plan if there is no information to send out.”
The Department of Justice has similar recommended criteria, saying that law enforcement must provide “enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction” for one to be issued.
It also recommended that the child’s name and other information have been entered into the National Crime Information Center system before issuing an alert.