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Editorial on the flaws in the Amber Alert System

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Editorial on the flaws in the Amber Alert System Empty Editorial on the flaws in the Amber Alert System

Post by TomTerrific0420 Mon Jul 20, 2009 4:38 pm

As written by Jon Adler - Executive Director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association

When it comes to finding missing or abducted children, worried parents and law
enforcement officers rely for the most part on fingerprints and the
voluntary Amber Alert system. While these may assist in the recovery of
a child, there is a lot more that can and needs to be done to better
protect our children.
Each year between 800,000 and 1.3 million children are reported missing. Further,
more than 58,000 children are abducted each year. And, in abductions
involving a violent crime, statistics show that 99 percent of violent
crimes occur within the first four hours that the child is missing.
In many communities, the local police or sheriff offer parents the
opportunity to have their children fingerprinted. Additionally, all
states have some version of the Amber Alert system, an early warning
system to help find abducted children. While these are important tools,
we can and must do better. Recalling a few high-profile cases
illustrates the issues.
Take the 2006 case of 14-year old Elizabeth Shoaf from Lugoff, S.C.
Elizabeth was missing for 10 days, yet no Amber Alert was issued. It
was only when Elizabeth got hold of her kidnapper's cell phone and sent
a text message to her mother's cell phone that U.S. marshals were
called in to help locate and safely rescue her.
In California, 8-year-old Sandra Cantu wasn't as lucky. She disappeared
this past March and her body was found 10 days later inside a suitcase
left in a drainage ditch. Her family had contacted police, but no Amber
Alert was sent out. The police, while not issuing an Amber Alert, still
conducted a search, informed other law enforcement offices in
California, and spoke to the media.
In Texas, when an 11-year-old girl supposedly ran away with her
23-year-old boyfriend, child advocates in Texas questioned why state
law enforcement officials refused to issue a statewide Amber alert
given the child's age and given that local police in Tyler had issued
an alert. The state argued the girl had not technically been abducted.
While the girl may not have fit the narrow definition of “abducted” by
a stranger, this kind of incident should be part of any Amber Alert system.
In not one of these cases would having fingerprints on file helped in rescuing
the abducted child. Sadly, the only use for fingerprints in these
circumstances is to help identify the body — not much comfort to distraught parents.
Additionally, a close examination of how states interpret and implement the voluntary
Amber Alert system reveals some serious problems and inconsistencies.
In the cases cited above, like so many others, national and state
guidelines for issuing an Amber Alert require evidence that a child has
been taken a certain distance away. Further, many states are reluctant
to issue an alert in cases where abduction by a stranger and physical
coercion are not evident. The decision is left to local and state
officials to make the call. The search for Elizabeth was conducted by
family, friends and neighbors. The search for Sandra was conducted by
the police but without issuing an Amber Alert. In the Texas case, local
law enforcement issued an Amber Alert while the state refused.
The guidelines for Amber Alerts set by the Department of Justice are just
that — guidelines, not requirements. South Carolina's process for
initiating an Amber Alert differs in some ways from California's. In
both states, the law enforcement agency has to believe the child was
abducted. In South Carolina, unlike California, the law enforcement
agencies have to exclude all other possibilities for a child's
disappearance. Both states require the child to be 17 years old or
younger or if older have a proven physical or mental disability. Unlike
South Carolina and California, New Jersey says there must have been a
short enough delay between the time the child was last seen and the
time the child was reported missing to believe an Amber Alert will help
locate the child. Some states won't issue an Amber Alert unless there
is a vehicle description. Other states will.
The differences in state application of the federal guideline can result in
one state issuing an Amber Alert while a neighboring state doesn't. In
such a situation, a child predator can cross state lines knowing he/she
is less likely to be pursued in the state with a more lax set of rules.
This is unacceptable, and we need all states to implement a zero
tolerance system for pursuing child predators.
Mark Klaas, whose 13-year-old daughter Polly was kidnapped and killed, has
said, “The Amber Alert system, as it was conceived by the federal
government, is an ill-conceived idea that was based on bureaucracy and
not quickly disseminated information.” He's right.
So what's the solution? We need a national system with a single set of
rules that are consistently applied in every state. When issuing Amber
alerts, state law enforcement agencies should be using modern
technology — cell phones, the Internet and GPS to maximize the rapid
dissemination of vital information. The time has come for Congress to
legislate a better system for protecting our children from possible abduction.
Supreme Commander of the Universe With Cape AND Tights AND Fancy Headgear
Supreme Commander of the Universe With Cape AND Tights AND Fancy Headgear

Job/hobbies : Searching for Truth and Justice

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