In 1993, prior to the availability of the AMBER Alert system, Marc Klaas’ daughter Polly was kidnapped from her home during a slumber party and killed by Richard Allen Davis. The recent abduction and alleged murder of 8-year-old Canadian girl, Victoria Stafford, and the abduction of California child Bryant Rodriguez, has him questioning the suggested criteria required to activate an AMBER Alert.
Klaas has become increasingly critical during recent months, largely because of the kidnapping of a California child. Two men tied up a family, ransacked their home and took the child — but an Amber Alert wasn’t issued immediately because no one could describe the abductors’ vehicle, he said.
Vehicle descriptions are most likely in cases of family abductions, which are generally the least dangerous, Klaas said.
“It’s a fatal flaw. I’m really concerned that the children that need this kind of response the most are the children least served by it.”
Klaas suggested changes are simple. If an otherwise well-adjusted child, with no history or likelihood of running away, doesn’t return home on time, an Amber Alert should be issued. Suggestions such a system would be overused, thus making it less effective, are unfounded, he said.
“They say it (could) be overused, but there’s no basis for that. Those (cases) don’t happen that often.”
Each state AMBER Alert plan has its own criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts. The PROTECT Act, passed in 2003, which established the role of AMBER Alert Coordinator within the Department of Justice (DOJ), calls for DOJ to issue minimum standards or guidelines for AMBER Alerts that states can adopt voluntarily. DOJ’s guidance on criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts is:
•Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place
•The child is at risk of serious injury or death
•There is sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor’s vehicle to issue an alert
•The child must be 17 years old or younger
•It is recommended that immediate entry of AMBER Alert data be entered in FBI’s National Crime Information Center. Text information describing the circumstances surrounding the abduction of the child should be entered, and the case flagged as Child Abduction.Most state’s guidelines adhere closely to DOJ’s recommended guidelines.
Are they to strict? Are AMBER Alerts activated often enough?
One of the concerns many people have is that relaxing them would lead to abuse of the system if they are activated too often. Authorities suggest the public will eventually become desensitized and ignore them. Is it a valid concern? Obviously, the recent AMBER Alert involving the alleged abduction of Pennsylvania mother Bonnie Sweeten and her daughter doesn’t help as her abduction turned out to be a hoax.
An issue he didn’t address is what happens to the information once the media has aired the initial AMBER Alert?
In March of this year Allyson Corrales was abducted in Kansas City by her father after her murdered mother’s body was discovered. It was later cancelled even though she remains missing because authorities believe it will no longer assist in finding her. Meanwhile, Haleigh Cummings is still listed at the NCMEC as one of a handful of active alerts as she went missing on March 25, 2009. She is listed at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) as an unsolved alert but not an active one.
On May 23rd there was an AMBER Alert activated for Colorado Springs infant that is still shown as active at the NCMEC, however, if you visit the Colorado Bureau of Investigation site, there are no active alerts. Either way, Emanuel Guzman remains missing.
Ironically, in Texas, AMBER Alerts are provided through a partnership with the Texas Governor’s Office and are posted at a site Marc Klaas owns, Beyond Missing. Most others are posted at the NCMEC.
So why is there is no central site to view all active alerts throughout the country? When an AMBER Alert is activated, why should you have to search multiple sites to find details? There are also numerous “ticker” services states use as secondary alerts but the alerts are posted only for those states subscribing to their service. This means a “ticker” on a website may only display a limited number of state’s alerts and not all active alerts.
Related Post: Are the criteria too strict or too lenient?