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State Police Dept. plans changes to Amber Alerts

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico State Police is working to change the way Amber Alerts are issued so that officers will have more control over the information that is broadcast statewide when a child is abducted.

The news of the change comes on the heels of an Amber Alert that was sent out Monday after Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputies reported a 9-month-old was abducted by her mom’s boyfriend, then abandoned in an SUV that had been stolen.

The Amber Alert reported wrong information about the SUV’s license plate, which was quickly corrected.

State Police spokeswoman Elizabeth Armijo said the change has been in the works for months and wasn’t sparked by Monday’s alleged abduction or the misinformation that was sent out.

“Within the last year we’ve had multiple Amber Alerts. And because of that, it’s caused us to evaluate our system and what we use and how we can make it most effective,” she said.

State Police is responsible for handling Amber Alerts for all law-enforcement agencies in the state.

In the current Amber Alert system, state agencies enter the alert into a federal database, which automatically notifies a national nonprofit called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The NCMEC then sends out the Amber Alert on behalf of the state law enforcement agency.

NCMEC Vice President Robert Lowery said in a phone interview Wednesday that on Monday staffers at NCMEC mixed up which state the stolen SUV’s license plate was from. It was first reported as from New Mexico, when the plate was actually from Arizona.

It was corrected about 15 minutes later, and had no impact on the effectiveness of the alert, Lowery said.

A few hours later, Aryana Smith was found hot and dehydrated in the stolen SUV in a northwest Albuquerque neighborhood. BCSO deputies say the suspect, 23-year-old Lieghraughnzo Benally, removed the license plate from the SUV before he left the child.

In the new system State Police plans to use, they will use a federal alert system and will be able to send it out themselves.

Armijo said the new system won’t necessarily be faster, but it will give State Police more control over the information. The old system will still be in place if needed.

She said she didn’t know exactly when the new system will be in place, but that it will be in the “near future.”

Lowery said New Mexico is the first state to switch away from using NCMEC to send out alerts.

He said NCMEC sends out the alerts because it’s a national organization and can quickly coordinate the alerts between various states.

“We’ve been doing it 20 years,” he said. “The Amber Alert system has saved hundreds of children’s lives. It is a very viable and very good system.”

But Lowery said NCMEC will continue to work with State Police no matter what system they use.

“We consider State Police a partner,” he said. “Certainly how they run their system is their decision to make.”