Iowa’s Blue Alert system sees first use in Algona police officer shooting investigation

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 11:15 PM CDT
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Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa’s Blue Alert system was established in 2021, but it’s first use was on September 13th, 2023, when the Iowa Department of Public Safety activated the program after Algona police officer Kevin Cram was shot and killed in the line of duty.

43-year-old Kyle Ricke is accused of shooting and killing Officer Cram, after Cram was on patrol and was made aware of an active arrest warrant for Ricke, for harassment. When Cram told Ricke he was going to be placed under arrest, police said Ricke shot Officer Cram. Ricke has been charged with one count of First Degree Murder in Kossuth County, Iowa. On Thursday, Ricke was back in Kossuth County after being extradited from Minnesota where he was arrested. He’s currently being held on a $2 million bond.

Iowa’s Blue Alert system saw its first use during the initial investigation after Officer Cram was shot, before the suspect was arrested.

The National Blue Alert Network is a system established by the Justice Department. It’s been adopted by 37 states, including Iowa in 2021. It’s similar to an Amber Alert, which is activated to help find missing children. But the goal of a Blue Alert is to get help from the public in finding a suspect if a peace officer is injured or killed in the line of duty.

In Iowa, the Blue Alert system was created as a rule change to the “Missing Persons” Chapter 89 of Iowa Administrative Code in 2021.

State officials say in the Blue Alert’s first use on September 13th, the initial stage of the system’s activation notified law enforcement officers in Kossuth County and adjacent counties, as well as counties in southern Minnesota.

Lt. Heath Hove with the Iowa Department of Public Safety says the department helps coordinate the Blue Alert, by gathering the data needed and validating it. From the time Officer Cram was shot, until the Blue Alert was posted to the public- via Facebook- about 3 hours and 40 minutes had passed. “It takes time. You’re gathering information and you’re gathering a lot of it and trying to sort through it. I mean, it’s a rapidly evolving situation,” says Hove.

This is a BLUE ALERT issued by the Iowa Department of Public Safety on September 13, 2023. At approximately 8:00 p.m.,...

Posted by Iowa Department of Public Safety on Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The law says as part of the Blue Alert activation, the department shall transmit the Blue Alert through the Emergency Alert System to Iowa broadcasters. But as Hove explained, that did not happen on September 13th, saying “In this case, specifically, as we were getting ready to send that message out, the suspect was apprehended in Minnesota, so we didn’t actually hit send on that message.”

There are several requirements to trigger a Blue Alert in Iowa. Those include:

1. A peace officer has suffered death or serious injury in the line of duty.

2. A law enforcement agency believes that the suspect has not been apprehended.

3. A law enforcement agency believes that the suspect may be a serious threat to the public.

4. Sufficient descriptive information is available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the suspect.

A report from the Justice Department shows 331 law enforcement officers were shot in the line of duty in 2022, with 62 officers dying of injuries from a shooting in 2022. The goal of the Blue Alert system is to get immediate help from the public in situations when peace officers are killed, seriously injured, or go missing in the line of duty. “Call 911 and then give the best information that you can. Direction, vehicle, license plate, description of the building, any descriptive information you can get, capture that and then pass that on,” says Hove.

The Department of Public Safety says it is continuing to build out the Blue Alert program, and officials say their next steps include a website dedicated to the program, which will help inform people of its purpose and streamline the process of communicating information statewide.