FF12: KBI director discusses changes to improve Amber Alert program

Changes and progress are coming to Kansas after a FactFinder 12 investigation.

Better communication and more training: Those are among the improvements the Kansas Bureau of Investigation says it's made since FactFinder 12 discovered human error meant people did not receive an Amber Alert on their phones.

This week, FactFinder 12 sat down with the KBI director to talk about the progress in improving the system.

In a case from December 2016, FactFinder 12 investigator Devon Fasbinder told us about the mistake that led to an Amber Alert that wasn't sent to people's phones.

In that case, a woman and her three children went missing. They had been abducted and were in danger. For a time, police had no answers. It's a case that landed two in prison and others awaiting trial.

Yet, when Melissa Gifford and her children disappeared, phones stayed silent.

FactFinder 12 discovered someone at the KBI made an error that led the KBI and the state attorney general to make some changes.

"I think we've taken some significant steps forward and I do believe that the Amber Alert program is working well in Kansas," KBI Director Kirk Thompson says.

He says the top-to-bottom review of the Amber Alert program his agency conducted in 2017 showed eight areas that needed improvement.

Those include training law enforcement, shortening law-enforcement response times, creating a procedural checklist, addressing program misconceptions, creating an advisory board, and improving the Amber Alert technology in three ways.

Thompson says his agency has worked on all of the areas in need of improvement. A big shortcoming in the Amber Alert program has been delays in getting critical information from local law enforcement.

Thompson has asked local agencies to speed up that process by taking out some middle men in reporting the critical information.

"Giving the opportunity for the field commander, the sergeant on the scene to make that call so that it doesn't take that additional time to move up the chain of command and back down," Thompson says.

The issue in the case of Melissa Gifford and her children was that a KBI employee forgot to send an important email. Thompson says that's a problem that's been fixed.

"We implemented a much more defined procedural checklist so that as we deploy an Amber Alert, the personnel in our shop who do that have a very strict guideline to go by and then we verify that all of those steps have been taken when each alert is issued," Thompson says.

In the December 2016 case, Melissa Gifford and her children were found safe.

Thompson says while he wishes he could say there will never be another mistake when it comes to the Amber Alert program, it's a complex system and failures do happen.