'Blue Alert' informs public when officers are killed, injured

Image 1 of 9

When law enforcement needs to track down a suspect who attacked an officer, informing the public can be critical.

"Time is of the essence. If you think about if an officer is shot, if someone has hurt an officer that's a big public safety issue because most likely that person is going to be very dangerous and will likely hurt someone in the public," explained Georgia Bureau of Investigation Deputy Public Affairs Director Natalie Ammons.

Earlier this month, the GBI issued what is called a "Blue Alert" for a man named Otis Walker after he allegedly killed his girlfriend and injured a responding officer before getting away.

That same day a Dunwoody Police officer was injured when a suspect dragged him with his vehicle onto I-285.  Ammons said had the police not arrested that suspect so quickly, that incident also could have qualified for an alert.

Since 2015, federal law has allowed states to issue a "Blue Alert" if an officer is injured, killed or missing in the line of duty. The law also applies when a suspect has made a credible, imminent threat against an officer. 

Currently when the GBI issues a "Blue Alert," they share the information on their social media channels, with GEMA for distribution to local EMAs and with the Georgia Lottery and the Georgia Department of Transportation, which can display the alert on their digital signs throughout the state.

"The public, they want to help," said Ammons.  "They want to keep their families safe and they want to help if an officer has been killed or injured.  So, it's very important to get the information out quickly so it can be shared."

A little more than a week after the shooting, the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office took Walker into custody not far from the scene of the crime.

"I think the reason why that suspect was contained to where he was because we were able to get out the word immediately," said DeKalb County Police Major Jerry Lewis.

Eventually, the GBI hopes "Blue Alerts" will go straight to people's cell phones similar to Amber Alerts for missing children.