Opinion

The Free Press Editorial

If ever there was an example of the effectiveness of the Amber Alert system, the incident last week is it.

Missing three-year-old Alvin Barnett was found safe, in another country, just 15 hours after he went missing, because a resident of Whitefish, Montana, had seen the Amber Alert and contacted police.

The problem with the Amber Alert system is it's just not enough.

Amber Alert literally means "America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response," although it was originally named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996.

Generally the masses do not understand that very specific criteria must be met before police can issue an Amber Alert.

Police must believe a child under the age of 18 has been abducted and have descriptive information about the child, the abductor, or the vehicle. It routinely takes hours to establish these facts.

Without these guidelines police would issue alarms every day, for runaways or for kids who forgot to tell their moms they had basketball after school. Highway signs, newspaper websites and radio broadcasts would be flooded. Amber Alerts would mean nothing.

It was lucky for Alvin’s family that the police determined that this case met all the criteria to allow them to issue an Amber Alert, and that this was determined so soon after he was reported missing. It’s not always the case that it is issued when a child is suspected to have been abducted by a family member. However, for whatever reason, the police believed Alvin was in danger, and therefore met the criteria.

It is rare that this all happens so quickly.

But when a police officer first responds to the report of a missing child there are opportunities to alert the public instantly, without issuing an Amber Alert.

Cops can Tweet. They can post on Facebook.

They can employ the technology that did not exist in 1996 when Amber Hagerman was snatched and killed.

When three-year-old Kienan Hebert disappeared from his home in Sparwood last year it took the law enforcement bureaucracy nearly nine hours to issue an Amber Alert.

At the community level we need permissions that allow cops to issue public alerts about missing children "from the scene."

The bodies of many abducted and murdered children are eventually recovered near their homes. They are killed soon after being taken. Amber Alerts would not help them.

An effort to provide instant, community-centric police bulletins would improve the chances for all missing children.

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