Authorities announced changes to the province’s Amber Alert program Monday aimed at easing the process for police and speeding up the time in which the important bulletins are issued to the public.

Oxford Community Police came under harsh criticism last spring because the clarion call wasn’t issued following the abduction of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford in Woodstock, Ont. In May, provincial police and other agencies launched a review of the Amber Alert program and came up with some key modifications that loosen some of the requirements investigators must adhere to in order to release a bulletin.

 “Now the OPP has a dedicated person to Amber Alert. In the past that person had other routines, other jobs as well with the OPP, and that’s important because of the fact that now there’ll be training involved … so the police and the community at large can understand the Amber Alert program much better,” said John Hinnen, the VP and GM at 680 News who sits on the Amber Alert advisory board.

An important wording change is also included. In the past, investigators had to adhere to specific criteria before issuing an alert. Those criteria have been changed to guidelines, meaning the framework police must work within is less rigid.

Previously authorities had to confirm that a child had been abducted and confirm that youngster was in danger of bodily harm or death. Now authorities must only believe a kidnapping has taken place and that a child is in danger, which should result in the swifter release of alerts and, hopefully, happy endings.

Before these changes, police were also required to provide a description of the child, the abductor and a vehicle in order to issue an Amber Alert. Under the new changes, authorities need only one of these descriptions to send out the call.

Tori Stafford’s father, Rodney, said he’s happy to see changes to the Amber Alert system, but added he doesn’t think the new rules would’ve prevented the tragic outcome in his daughter’s case.

It took nearly three hours before the police were alerted the little girl was missing, Rodney Stafford said, adding it’s his understanding she was murdered the night she was taken.

    Here’s a full look at the new guidelines for the Amber Alert system:

    • The criteria for activating an AMBER Alert have been changed to guidelines.
    • The new guidelines for issuing an AMBER Alert are:.

    1.Law enforcement agency believes a child under the age of 18 has been abducted;

    2.Law enforcement agency believes the child is in danger; 

    3.There is descriptive information about one or more of the following: child; abductor; vehicle; to believe an immediate broadcast alert will help in locating the child.

    • A dedicated AMBER Alert Coordinator has been appointed. The Coordinator will be responsible for all aspects of the program, including training, education/awareness, communication, ongoing enhancements and expansion of the program.
    • Update all communication products including existing web sites, flyers, internal and external information on the AMBER Alert program to ensure consistency and to enhance public awareness.
    • Work with the Ontario Police College (OPC) to ensure that AMBER Alert training is included in all appropriate courses. Provide training for the Association of Ontario Broadcasters (an AMBER Alert partner) and all other media.
    • The AMBER Alert Steering Committee should seek additional partners to broadcast AMBER Alerts and expand the reach.
    • The Steering Committee should explore existing Memoranda of Understanding with neighbouring Provincial and State jurisdictions with the intention of improving cross border activations.