MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Opinion

March 5, 2013

Expand alerts for missing kids

— Oklahoma’s AMBER Alert criteria are too limited to provide true protection for our missing children.

The AMBER Alert system was designed to get information to the public in an effort to find children who have been abducted.

However, the criteria law enforcement must meet to have a statewide alert issued can put children at risk.

Law enforcement officers must know a child, 17 or under, has been abducted or is in immediate danger before an alert is issued.

State officials are concerned that if too many AMBER Alerts are issued the public may begin to ignore the information because of the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome.

That may be true. But it only takes one person to spot a suspect or suspect’s vehicle to help return a child to safety.

And the kind of people who would ignore AMBER Alerts probably would not have been much help in the first place.

Since AMBER Alerts started going statewide in 1999, there have been 29 such alerts issued.

That’s barely more than two per year.

Loosening the criteria does not seem to suggest a flood of “fake” alerts.

Local law enforcement would remain in charge of contacting state officials. Discretion to determine when an alert is needed would remain the job of professional law enforcement.

Statistics state that children who are killed by their abductors are killed within three hours of their abduction.

That leaves very little room for law enforcement to determine whether an abduction has even occurred.

Unless someone actually sees a child taken, law enforcement is handcuffed by criteria created to help children.

Local law enforcement should use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to send out missing children alerts in the moments after a child is reported missing and before an actual abduction can be verified.

News media — including the Phoenix — would be more than willing to use their social media outlets to ask the public’s help to look for missing children.

The safe return of missing children is a top priority for law enforcement.

Using social media is the next logical step in ensuring children can return home.

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