(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday released legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Mainor that would incorporate recommendations by the Attorney General on the proper use of an Amber Alert in cases involving child abductions by family members.
The bill is in response to the tragic case of Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem, a three-month old infant whose father abducted her from her grandmother and is accused of throwing her off the Driscoll Bridge. Under the Attorney General guidelines in effect at the time of Zara’s abduction, it was not clear what criteria should be followed in cases of abduction by family members. This bill codifies changes to these guidelines recommended by the Attorney General in response to this case.
“Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem’s life was tragically cut short, allegedly by her own father. While unlikely that any alert would have saved Zara since there was little time between her abduction and death, we cannot allow her senseless death to be in vain,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “This bill provides additional guidelines established by the Attorney General that will help law enforcement determine when an Amber Alert should be used to aid in the search for children kidnapped by family members. When time is crucial, we need clarity, not confusion.”
This bill (A-2598) would codify the Attorney General’s recommendations concerning when an Amber Alert should be issued in cases involving the abduction of a child by a family member.
Specifically, the bill sets forth criteria that law enforcement officials must consider in determining whether the state police should activate an Amber Alert.
Under the bill, law enforcement officials must consider whether:
- any express or implied threats of harm to the child were made by the abductor at any time before the abduction, or during the course of the abduction (for example, “if I can’t have custody, then no one will”);
- there was any past history of violence by the abductor directed against the child, or abuse or neglect of the child, or any other child;
- violence or threat of violence was used in committing the abduction, and whether force was used or directed against the child (for example, the child resisted or tried to escape) or put the child at immediate risk of harm, even if the force was directed against another (for example, the use or threatened use of a firearm or other weapon; assault by auto, motor vehicle eluding, or reckless driving);
- there is a family history of domestic violence or child abuse, or a history of custody disputes or past abductions;
- the abductor has a past history of violence or weapons offenses;
- the abductor is believed to be armed;
- the abductor is believed to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
- the abductor has a history of alcohol or other substance abuse;
- the abductor has a history of mental illness;
- the abductor was acting irrationally (for example, uncontrolled rage, desperation, or panic);
- the child or the abductor has a pre-existing medical or health condition, which, if unmonitored or untreated, could negatively impact on the welfare of the child; and
- any other facts or circumstances exist that suggest that the abductor might intentionally or unintentionally harm the child, or expose the child to a dangerous situation.
The bill also specifies that all appropriate law enforcement personnel, including 9-1-1 operators, are to be trained to implement these criteria.
“There should be as little ambiguity as possible when deciding whether an Amber Alert should be activated. As we know, time is of the essence when trying to find a child who has been kidnapped,” said Mainor. “Incorporating the criteria set forth by the Attorney General will help ensure precious time is not wasted and is concentrated instead on finding the child who has been abducted.”
The bill was released by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.