“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. H.R. 2666, the ‘AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2017,’ is an important bill to give Indian tribes the ability to respond quickly to child abductions. Through the grant program authorized by this legislation, tribal law enforcement agencies would gain the ability to immediately initiate their own AMBER Alerts, while tribal alert systems could also be integrated with relatively more advanced AMBER Alert communications plans of state and regional law enforcement.
“The AMBER Alert program is a powerful tool that engages geographically targeted networks of law enforcement, broadcast and transportation agencies, digital-signage companies, Internet service providers, and the wireless industry to issue an urgent notification in the most serious cases of child-abduction. AMBER alerts can instantly galvanize an entire community in the search for an abducted child. From its inception through June of this year, AMBER Alert programs in the states have led directly to the rescue of 881 children.
“The AMBER Alert program is used in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and AMBER Alert systems have evolved to utilize many different means of mass communication in notifying the public of a child-abduction.
“Indian tribal communities, however, are unable to take full advantage of this valuable program. Currently, Indian tribal law enforcement must rely on state or regional law enforcement agencies off-reservation to issue AMBER Alerts on their behalf. This is unfortunate because child abductions are reportedly down across the country – with the exception of Indian country.
“As we all know, time is of the essence when a child is abducted or missing. AMBER Alert plans provide a comprehensive, rapid response, which is critical in such cases. Statistics show that roughly seventy-four percent of abducted children who are murdered are killed within three hours of their abduction. The time expended to coordinate with state or regional law enforcement before issuing an Amber alert can be lengthy, and could have dire consequences.
“In fact, H.R. 2666 was introduced in response to a fatal abduction that occurred on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. That case highlighted gaps in communication and coordination between tribal and off-reservation law enforcement. Based on several accounts of the case, the AMBER Alert was issued ten or more hours after the child was abducted. And, sadly, it was too late.
“In 2003, the PROTECT Act established a grant program with the goals of strengthening AMBER Alert communications plans nationwide and developing a seamless network throughout the country, thereby increasing the likelihood that abducted children would be recovered swiftly and safely.
“The legislation before us today would reauthorize that program at a total of $10 million for FY 2018 and would make Indian tribal communities eligible to receive grant funds for the first time. With this funding, tribes will be able to develop and implement AMBER Alert communications plans of their own, and to integrate their AMBER Alert systems into state and regional communications plans. Awarded funds could also be used for education, training, and law enforcement tools and equipment related to communications plans.
“If enacted, H.R. 2666 would help build a truly national and cohesive network of AMBER Alerts. Tribal law enforcement would have the ability to directly issue AMBER Alerts without having to rely on outside law enforcement agencies, while outside agencies will be available to fill in any gaps when necessary.
“Our nation’s children are precious to us all and they deserve our protection, wherever they live. We should do all that we can to ensure appropriate resources are allocated to efforts to recover missing or abducted children.
“Therefore, I support this important bill, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”