On Sept. 19, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff announced the launch of the endangered person advisory, a statewide plan to recover missing people who do not fit the criteria for an Amber Alert.
"The Amber Alert has been an extremely effective tool for bringing abducted children home. With the addition of the endangered person advisory, police officers now have a simple clear-cut plan to find others who may be in danger," pointed out Shurtleff.
Before issuing an endangered person advisory, law enforcement agencies must consider four criteria. The criteria established for the statewide missing persons program include:
Is the individual missing under suspicious circumstances?
Is the individual in danger because of age, health, mental or physical disability, environment or weather conditions or in the company of a potentially dangerous person?
Is there information that could assist the public in the safe recovery of the missing individual?
Do the circumstances fail to meet the criteria for an Amber Alert?
In the event the circumstances meet the Amber criteria, Carbon County residents should immediately follow the protocol to issue an alert, emphasized the attorney general's office.
The Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification will distribute the advisory to law enforcement, media, businesses and ports of entry at locations across the state, explained the attorney general's office.
In addition, law enforcement authorities can send the advisory by telephone to residents living in the area where the person was last seen.
Information will also go to National Crime Information Center and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children if the missing person is younger than the age of 18.
"Broadcasters want to serve the public and this is another way we can serve and even save lives," commented Utah Broadcasters Association president Dale Zabriskie.
The endangered person advisory could be applied to a number of cases that do not fit the Amber Alert criteria. Examples include a 19-year-old kidnap victim, a 75-year-old Alzheimer's patient, a 14-year-old missing girl with suspicious computer correspondence or an 11-year-old scout lost in the mountains.
The Utah Attorney General's Office highlighted several reasons why missing children face serious, potentially deadly risks.
First, the results of a recently released Washington state study found that 67 percent of child abduction homicides began as a missing person or runaway case.
Second, the United States Department of Justice statistics for 2004 indicated that 70 percent of missing children are endangered because of sexual or physical assault, criminal companions, drug use or they are younger than the age 13.
Third, a recent questionnaire of Utah homeless youth found that 37 percent had been sexually assaulted and 50 percent had attempted suicide.
"The partnership between law enforcement and the media has proven to be a good one with the Amber Alert. In the same way, the endangered person advisory will let thousands of people know quickly that someone may be in harm's way," noted Woods Cross Police Chief Paul Howard.
Howard represents the Utah Police Chiefs Association on the state's Amber Alert advisory committee.
A slight change is also being made in the criteria for Utah Amber Alert, according to the attorney general's office.
The alerts will only be issued for children younger than the age of 18. The original criteria included an individual with a proven mental or physical disability.
"Utah's criteria is now in line with what the department of justice recommends for Amber Alerts. However, the Utah Amber Alert advisory committee didn't want to make the change until the Endangered Person Advisory was up and running, " pointed out Paul Murphy, spokesperson for the attorney general's office and Utah Amber Alert coordinator.
The statewide endangered person advisory program will be initiated on the same day as the fifth test of the Utah Amber Alert plan.
The tests are conducted annually on May 25, Missing Children's Day, and Sept. 19, the anniversary of the day kidnap victim Rachael Runyan was found.
"Though it has been 23 years since Rachael's abduction, we still do not forget," pointed out Elaine Runyan-Simmons, the mother of the young victim. "We are still figuring out ways to find our missing children. The fight goes on."