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Police officers put their lives on the line every day when they work out in the community. Unfortunately, not all police officers return home safe and sound. Some police officers get seriously injured, killed, or go missing on the line of duty. For these officers, finding the suspect responsible for their demise or injuries is critical for public safety. That’s why blue alerts are incredibly important to be on the lookout for.
Blue alerts are alerts issued after a law enforcement officer has been killed or injured in the line of duty, or if they are missing. Any information on the suspect that might be responsible for the crime towards the police officer is issued with this blue alert. Blue alerts are available through text message notifications and other communication channels, and have been in effect since 2015.
History of the Blue Alert
The blue alert system has developed drastically since 2004, both on a state level and on a federal level. What began as a single system solely in the state of Florida has now spread to include 37 states, with 2 states currently in the process of developing their own blue alert system.
Florida Blue Alert System
In September of 2004, Miami-Dade police officer Keenya Hubert was shot at 24 times with an automatic AK-47 rifle. Officer Hubert survived her injuries, and her encounter with the suspect led to the creation of the first ever Blue Alert system in the United States.
Although Officer Hubert was able to speak with her dispatcher and provide a detailed description of the vehicle with the assailant, as well as the vehicle tag information, this information was not displayed on traffic billboard signs or shared en mass with the public. Unfortunately, it was not legal at the time for the Florida Department of Transportation to issue such alerts, or share the information widely through billboards.
Thus, on May 05, 2008, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed off on the creation of the Florida LEO, or Law Enforcement Officer, Alert Plan. This plan allowed departments such as the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida Highway Patrol to work together with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to broadcast information on public Dynamic Message Signs to be distributed to citizens.
New York and the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015
Sadly, although Florida made valiant efforts to create their blue alert plan, there would be other fatalities of law enforcement officers before there would be a federal system put in place, which is the modern blue alert plan we know today. In 2010, Maryland State Trooper Wesley Brown was killed during an off-duty security detail. It was after this that Maryland also created their own blue alert plan.
Then, in 2014, a violent criminal would begin to post on social media about harming police officers in New York. These threats were, unfortunately, very serious and would come to fruition on December 20. That was the day two New York Police Department law enforcement officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjiuan Liu, were ambushed as they sat in their vehicle. The detectives were killed on the same day the criminal posted threats to his social media Instagram account.
In response to this tragedy, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland (where the suspect traveled from) authored and signed the New York and the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015 alongside President Barack Obama. The act allowed for the creation of a national alert system similar to the existing amber alert system and silver alert system. The effectiveness of this system showed just how critical it was to model a federal blue alert plan, therefore helping other states and law enforcement agencies spread valuable information to the public.
When Blue Alerts are Issued
According to the New York and the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015, there are certain situations in which it is permissible to issue a blue alert. These include:
- During the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty;
- An officer is missing in connection with the officer’s official duties; or
- There is an imminent and credible threat that an individual intends to cause the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer
Alerts will include information about the suspect, for instance:
- Their name
- Physical Description
- Notable characteristics
- Age and gender
- Vehicle tag information
- Last known whereabouts
- Nature of their activities, such as suspicion of murder, assault, etc.
Creation of the National Blue Alert System
The “Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act” of 2015 also allowed for the creation of the National Blue Alert System. According to the act:
“The Attorney General shall establish a national Blue Alert communications network within the Department of Justice to issue Blue Alerts through the initiation, facilitation, and promotion of Blue Alert plans, in coordination with States, units of local government, law enforcement agencies, and other appropriate entities.”
Each state has its own unique guidelines for the system and its own process for how to disseminate informaiton. For instance, in Florida, a blue alert can only be posted for a maximum of 6 hours.
In California, additional blue alert criteria is needed, including a detailed description of the suspect’s vehicle or license plate that is available for broadcast.
Importance of a Blue Alert
A blue alert system can not only help citizens stay safe and on the lookout for dangerous suspects, but they can also help standardize the system in which suspects can be apprehended and information shared between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
A blue alert system is also designed to apprehend suspects and stop them from committing further harm and crimes. However, blue alerts must be designed for this to be possible, and sometimes this is not the case.
For instance, on August 16, 2021, the Texas Department of Public Safety, or Texas DPS, issued a vague public safety alert after a Clay County Deputy was shot in the chest during a traffic stop. Unfortunately, the alert by Texas DPS had little information on the alert, although a full alert with the suspect’s picture and other information was posted to the DPS Twitter page. This goes to show how important it is to have the appropriate information on the alert, and why states and local law enforcement agencies are selective in the types of blue alert notifications that can go out to the public.
States with Blue Alert Systems
There are currently 37 states that have an existing blue alert system, with New York and Pennsylvania currently in the process of implementing a new blue alert system. These states include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York (in progress)
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Pennsylvania (in progress)
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Where You Can See a Blue Alert
A local law enforcement agency might also use different avenues depending on their specific department policy. Some ways you can view a blue alert include:
- Wireless emergency alert through text messages
- Social media such as Twitter, Instagram, or other outlets
- Television broadcasts
- Radio broadcasts
- Latest news casts
In addition, in December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) integrated blue alerts into their existing Emergency Alert system, also known as the EAS, as well as the Wireless Emergency Alert System, or WEA.
Although most blue alert notifications are sent to people in the immediate area of the imminent threat or missing person, the FCC’s integration also allows blue alert notifications to cross state lines and warn other citizens of a potential suspect coming into their state. The criminal responsible for the murder of Ramos and Liu crossed state lines into New York, showing just how important this information would have been in preventing the deaths of these two officers, and other officers in the United States.
What To Do When You See a Blue Alert
You can sign up for blue alerts through Twitter or other social media accounts from your local law enforcement agency. If you receive a notification, be extremely cautious, as the suspect still might be at large. Pay attention to motor vehicles that pass you by and take note of any personal information of the suspect, such as their vehicle description.
If you do see a vehicle matching the description, keep a far distance and do not follow the vehicle, as the suspect might be armed and dangerous. Call 911 and give a description of the vehicle and the direction they were last headed. Remember, any tip or additional information can break a case open and locate a missing peace offer, or help other citizens stays safe.