Harris County changing way it accesses Amber Alert system

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- There were 20 Amber Alerts issued in Harris County in 2014, but until this month photos of the endangered children could not easily reach patrolling officers.

Now, that is changing.

Beth Alberts is the regional director for Amber Alert and knows how valuable time can be when trying to locate a missing child.

"Time is the enemy of any investigation," Alberts said. "The whole purpose of the amber alert system is get children back quickly and safely."

Her office is lined with photographs of missing children, which she says are critical to find them.

Twice in March, Amber Alert images led police to recognize and recover missing children. But the vast majority of law enforcement cannot see the photos in their patrol cars. Their
mobile digital terminals - MDTs - are not equipped with the technology.

Bruce High runs technology for Harris County and says he is acutely aware of the problem.

"We've heard some concerns," High said. "The more information the boots on the ground, the first responders, that they have at their fingertips, the better that they can make decisions."

Effective this month, the county can send Amber Alert photographs to eight constables and the Sheriff's Office, which can then upload them directly to all 2,400 vehicles. The move comes just two weeks after Harris County's Law Enforcement Technology Committee made it a priority.

"There will be a tab that they can open up and it will take them straight to the Amber Alert website, and they can get all of the information there," High said.

The new technology is exactly the kind of help officers need while patrolling the streets.

"We have the exact description of the child and that'll be the exact focal point of our investigation. And hope to recover the child immediately," said Pct. 6 Deputy Constable Cpl. Marco Leal.

The Amber Alert fix is temporary. Ultimately what is now just a tab on the screen will become an app.

But the new technology isn't just confined to finding missing people. There are new tools of the trade that will help law enforcement identify criminal suspects a lot faster.

There are mobile fingerprint scanners connected to the MDTs in patrol cars.

"You can just have him put his thumbprint on the device and it automatically sends the information with a picture," said Heliodoro Martinez Jr. with the Harris County Pct 6 Constable.

With the help of a federal grant, there are now 100 of the scanners on Harris County streets.

"It may come as a surprise to you, but sometimes people lie to the police. They don't have an ID with them and they claim to be another person. So right quickly we can run that fingerprint and tells us what we need to know," said Constable Ron Hickman with Harris County Pct. 4.

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