Some Downside to Amber Alert System
The Amber Alert System was created in 1996 after the abduction of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman in Texas. The system is both named after Hagerman and an acronym for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.” When law enforcement determines that a child abduction has met certain criteria, it issues the alert in which messages about the missing child interrupt regular television and radio programming, are shown on highway signs and are issued as signals audible even on muted mobile phones. While the Amber Alert system’s extensive benefits cannot be discounted, recently some controversies surrounding it have come to light.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), in order for an abduction to qualify for an Amber Alert to be issued it must meet the following criteria:
- 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 the 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. Information describing the circumstances surrounding the abduction of the child should be entered and the case flagged as Child Abduction.
The reason this criteria is needed is to prevent overuse of the system so as to prevent the public from becoming desensitized. However, many people have voiced complaint that the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) program, which is what sends loud text alerts to mobile phones even when they are silenced, is causing us to become desensitized. This past February, a New Jersey Amber Alert sent out one such signal to residents in New Jersey at 1:38 a.m. The following day, hundreds of social media messages made it clear that New Jersey residents were not happy about the alert. They were upset about being disturbed in the middle of the night, not because they were unconcerned for the missing child, but more so because they did not see the effectiveness of receiving an alert when most people were home in bed and unable to do anything about it.
Many of us no longer think twice when we hear a car alarm sound, as we are so used to being disturbed by them that all we can focus on when we hear one is: when will it finally be silenced? Some wonder if we will develop the same aversion to these potentially lifesaving Amber Alerts.
Moreover, the Federal Highway Administration has expressed some interesting safety concerns about the dangers posed from broadcasting electronic message signs on roadways. The signs can potentially distract drivers as well have negative impacts on traffic congestion. In response to these concerns, some states have begun to use the alert signs sparingly to reduce distraction, and some do not display the signs during high congestion times such as rush hour.
There is no doubt the Amber Alert System has the potential to prevent tragedy, but there are genuine concerns about the effectiveness of it as it is currently used. Is the system as we now operate it counterproductive? Perhaps in its efforts to prevent an unfortunate outcome it is introducing more safety concerns to the public.
Camden County Criminal Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jill R. Cohen Represent Those Accused of Child Abduction
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in connection with an Amber Alert, Camden County criminal lawyer, Jill R. Cohen, can provide you with the aggressive legal defense you need. As a prior assistant Camden County prosecutor and assistant Philadelphia district attorney, Attorney Cohen has the experience needed to protect your constitutional rights and defend you against criminal charges in New Jersey. Call the Camden County criminal law offices of Jill R. Cohen or submit an online contact form to schedule your consultation. Our offices are located in Westmont, New Jersey and we serve clients throughout Cherry Hill, Westmont, Haddonfield, Mt. Holly, and the city of Camden as well as communities throughout Camden County, Burlington County, Gloucester County, Salem County, Cumberland County, Mercer County, and Atlantic County.