Do amber alerts place more importance on people with children and their domestic problems? Should alerts be extended to missing adults and pets?

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-The Amber Alert system has proven to be a very powerful tool in locating and rescuing missing and endangered children nationwide.  Yes, having your phone go off at an inopportune time with an alert can be annoying, and often the digital signs along the freeway seem to have incomplete information, but overall the system works very well. 

A common misconception is that the alert is only for parental or custody-related kidnapping.  While most child abductions are related to that, the alert system is for any child who’s missing and presumed to be endangered.  Anytime a child is snatched from a bus stop or taken from a mall, the wheels begin to turn and the notices go out.  Law enforcement, transit officials and others in areas of high public contact get the picture and description of the child, the abductor and any vehicle in which they may be traveling.

Most states already have a “silver alert” system as well, which is employed in cases of missing and endangered senior citizens.  While it’s not as robust as the Amber Alert system, it does get the word out when an older adult goes missing either due to mental incapacity or some other form of misadventure.  As the Baby Boomers age, expect to see this system get additional funding and broader public attention.

I am resistant, however, to the idea of such a system for pets.  I have in the past owned cats, and know well their propensity for going on walkabout for days at a time, only to return as if nothing had happened. Dogs jump fences when tasty rabbits and squirrels come in range, and all manner of smaller pets find holes in cages and half-open doors to run through.  If we create an alert system to be activated every time Fluffy or Buster goes off the chain, our phones will never be silent.  

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-I am going to be pretty frank here and say what’s on my mind. Amber Alerts have played a vital role in society, especially in serious cases of child abduction. In fact, as of December 23, 2016, a total of 857 kids have returned safely due to the Amber Alert program. Truly, it’s something that should be continued. It does save lives.

I do agree that the Amber Alert program zooms in on the family and places high importance, especially on children. In all honesty, nothing is wrong with that. In fact, the program was developed with that motive/objective in mind–to handle serious cases of child abduction. It has lived up to its purpose.

However, could adjustments be made to ensure that more is included in this program? I do believe such adjustments would also benefit missing adults and animals (pets). However, the policies and criteria would need revamping to ensure the system is not abused. Adults and animals do go missing from time to time, so once an alert is made for them, some success should be had, as in the case of missing kids.

 

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-A criminal act, the abduction of a 9-year old child, Amber Hagerman, signaled the beginning of the Amber Alerts system.  In spite of a neighbor immediately notifying the authorities and Amber’s parents initiating action through the police, FBI and the media, the young girl did not survive the ordeal. There was simply not enough time to get the description of the abductor’s car to law enforcement, and that inability led to her abduction and murder.

Amber’s parents were determined to preserve her memory as well as prevent similar incidents from happening to other children.  Her parents, law enforcement and a Texas association of radio managers devised the Amber Alert system, which was named for Amber and also was designated America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER)

Since 1996 Amber Alerts has issued its broadcast emergency alerts after child abductions. State police usually issue the alerts concerning child abductions, but some new guidelines have emerged since 2010 that say the alerts can be issued in cases where children are kidnapped by family members.  These kinds of alerts were discouraged as they were being used to notify the public about missing children involved in domestic custody cases.  At this point, the alerts appeared to have become more of a social engineering agency as opposed to one that follows up on criminal abductions.

Now police and 911 dispatchers are trained to focus not only on abductions by strangers but those committed by close family members and relatives, which involves more detailed information gathering concerning family disputes and parental and custody rights that may be in question.  These new policies were initiated in response to a baby girl in New Jersey being abducted and thrown from a bridge by her father in 2010.  Authorities were notified, but an Amber Alert was not issued in the case because of confusion as to whether the alerts should be issued during custody disputes and family abductions. In this particular New Jersey case the child did not survive.

It does appear that Amber Alerts have been diversified and are moving away from their original intention, which was a relationship between law enforcement, broadcasters, transportation agencies and wireless providers in communion with a willing and empathetic community to locate abducted children. The system was designed to supply information as to the child’s name and the abductor’s car description through radio bulletins, overhead highway signs and other methods, with the hope in mind that members of the community might be able to help find the missing child before it was too late.

The Amber Alerts concept and process has led to a few publicized successes, but in most cases the system has not worked as effectively as many would believe.  The agenda that was inspired by Amber Hagerman over 20 years ago has been shown through data taken from Amber Alerts statistics (between 2003 and 2006) that the alerts and follow up interventions had limited relevance on the return of children, and in a majority of the cases most children that were subject of an Amber Alert did not survive their abductions.  Later reports through The Boston Globe in 2008, reported that   “Their successes were generally in child custody fights that didn’t pose a risk to the child. And in those rare instances where kidnappers did intend to rape or kill the child, Amber Alerts usually failed to save lives.”

People ask why the alerts are unproductive and a 2007 article in Pacific Standard magazine noted that most abducted children who did not survive their abductions were killed within a three hour period after their kidnapping.  Amber Alerts are not usually issued within that critical period because of the time it takes for law enforcement and other authorities to get organized.  By the time the alert is issued, it is usually too late to make a difference.

As the Boston Globe and other reports indicated,  Amber Alerts do appear to place more importance on people with children and their domestic problems, but that  situation is  due to the fact that  a  great majority of abductions in the country  are committed by relatives, acquaintances, and  separated parents who,  in most cases, don’t want to harm children.  With increased incidents of parents or other relatives abducting their own children, these kinds of  circumstances are going to occur more often than abductions by strangers in spite of the Amber Alerts credo of only issuing alerts for the “most serious child-abduction cases. “

Amber Alerts should not be extended to missing adults and pets.  The alert system would be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of adults making claims as well as pet owners.  Adults that have been abducted, missing or lost should be subject to missing person’s reports and follow up investigations by local police or county sheriff departments.  With pets, there is an online pet Amber Alert under PetAmberAlert.com where a missing pet and owner information can be submitted online.  The information is recorded, analyzed and a poster of the pet is created.  There is a lost pet database that can be accessed to make it easy to contact those who have lost pets.

The Amber Alerts program appears to have slipped in its original intention and has become inundated with alerts that involve domestic issues, sometimes outside of an area where an alert was actually issued.  In addition, people are receiving text message alerts that don’t apply to their jurisdiction.  The messages are confusing, vague and poorly targeted and have led people to disregard the messages altogether, particularly when abductions have occurred outside of a certain radius.

Though some alerts have been successful, the alert system needs revamping or replacement as well as separation from domestic issues in order for it to become a better community alert system.

 

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-The biggest advantage of Amber Alerts is their relative rarity. Since they are only issued on rare occasions, those who hear about them sit up and take notice. Amber Alerts focus attention and resources on finding one child in one specific area in the shortest amount of time.  By expanding Amber Alerts to adults and pets, citizens may become overloaded with warnings hitting them so frequently that they disconnect from receiving them on cell phones and computers and ignore the alerts that do get through.  Some people may think that issuing warnings about pets is frivolous and a waste of taxpayer money.  Others may think that missing adults can make better choices than children who have been abducted.  Is it a wise use of money and manpower to look for adults who went missing intentionally for whatever reason and don’t wish to be found?  And with the advent and popularity of tracking chip implants for pets, Amber Alerts for pets should not ever be considered.  Chip technology seems far cheaper and more efficient.

Another concern is the debate about the overall effectiveness of Amber Alerts.  Some feel they are more show than substance and represent an abdication by law enforcement to do their job of protecting and serving constituents by transferring to citizens much of the “responsibility” for searching.  Many experts have concluded that the track record for Amber Alerts isn’t good enough to deem it a successful program.  Many cases where Amber Alerts were issued were false alarms because parents abducted their own children and eventually returned them to the custodial parent.  And the actual number of children who are abducted, sexually abused, and then killed is only a small fraction of the cases in which Amber Alerts are issued.

More analysis of the effectiveness and cost of Amber Alerts should be done before the program is expanded.  Just because something sounds like a no-brainer good idea doesn’t mean it’s the best program available, let alone a program that generates tangible results for the amount of resources expended.

 

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