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What are the requirements for an AMBER Alert?

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) - The man accused of taking 12-year-old Malaya Johnson, a Hudson Falls girl, downstate and activating an AMBER Alert is set to appear in court on Wednesday.

George Torres, 19, is facing kidnapping and child endangerment charges. Johnson was safely reunited with her family over the weekend.

The incident is raising some questions about when AMBER Alerts should be used.

Specific criteria need to be met before an AMBER Alert can be sent out. First, the child needs to be a minor, police must be able to confirm an abduction, and there must be a risk of serious bodily harm or death.

So are these rules being followed and how do recent cases stack up?

Last week, signs on highways across New York flashed with the AMBER Alert message as police searched for the girl.

Did the case meet the specific AMBER Alert requirements?

“Malaya’s case is a perfect case study of how far do we go to get to an AMBER Alert when we have a case that certainly presents an unsafe environment for the child due to the circumstances. But is this something that we need to get an AMBER Alert on?” Retired Troy Police Captain John Cooney said.

Cooney says he's not convinced it met the right standards.

“When looking at the serious physical harm or death statute we do apply that to the abduction itself.”

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there were 195 cases nationwide in 2017.

One-hundred and ninety-three of those cases were recovered, and 39 of them were specifically because of the Amber Alerts issued.

That's why Cooney says it's important to use them in the right way.

“AMBER Alerts are very valuable tools. It’s the old we don’t want to create the cry wolf syndrome.”

This isn't the first time in recent months an AMBER Alert has pushed past the criteria.

Cooney says a May case from Western New York where police were looking for a toddler they believed to already be dead didn't meet the guidelines.

“Amber Alert is not intended to be in the sense of recovery. Amber Alert is designed for rescue.”

He says just months later in Schenectady, police made the right call by not issuing an alert for Rayen Puleski and used other methods to gather information instead.

“Looking at Schenectady’s decisions in hindsight, really consistent and appropriate based on the way the AMBER Alert system is designed.”

Cooney says although it seems Johnson's AMBER Alert pushed the boundaries of the system, it's possible certain information wasn't made public.

“So maybe that criteria of serious physical harm or death is there. We want the AMBER Alert out but we can’t tell the world why and we can’t tell the world what it is.”

In any potential AMBER Alert case in New York state, local police present their findings to New York State Police who ultimately decide if it meets the requirements.

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