Amber Alert Insanity!

Missing MomClarksburg, MD law enforcement is searching for 27-year-old Catherin Hoggle, who has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, in connection with the disappearance of her two young children. Her 2-year-old son Jacob was last seen at his grandparents’ home on Sunday afternoon (9/7/14), shortly before his mother drove him to get a pizza. When Ms. Hoggle returned three hours later without her son or a pizza she told her parents that she had left Jacob with a friend for a stay-over. The next morning (9/8/14) she drove away with her three-year-old daughter Sarah. When she returned she told her common law husband Troy Turner that she had dropped both kids off at daycare. When she was not forthcoming about the children’s whereabouts later that day Mr. Turner decided to report the incident to the police. Before he could do so Catherine Hoggle disappeared inside a fast food restaurant. Neither she nor her children have been seen since.

 

Little Jacob and Sarah are in grave danger and the police need every tool in their arsenal if they are going to recover the children alive, yet an Amber Alert has not been activated. The case does not fit the Amber Alert criteria because a car was not involved in the children’s disappearance.

 

The Amber Alert has always had great potential. However, that potential has been stymied by a fundamental misunderstanding of its intent and purpose. The Amber Alert was not created to be activated under specific conditions. Instead, it was meant as a partnership between law enforcement, media, and the public. It offered the public a viable means of assisting in the recovery of kidnapped children.

 

The Amber Alert as currently utilized in the United States is myopic, inflexible and most certainly costs children their lives. Maryland can remedy similar situations in the future by enacting legislation, issuing an executive order, an administrative rule or whatever means is necessary to include children who have been taken by a biological parent with severe mental illness, regardless of whether a car was involved or not.

How the Amber Alert Failed Hailey Owens

Hailey Owens Amber Alert_1392781921519_3030674_ver1.0_640_480

Hailey Owens is the victim of a broken Amber Alert system. Hailey was kidnapped in front of witnesses in the 3200 block of West Lombard St., in Springfield, MO at 4:48 p.m. on February 18, 2014. By 5:00 p.m. the witnesses had provided local law enforcement with the suspect’s description, vehicle make, color & license plate. Based on eyewitness accounts and the information provided to law enforcement, the Amber Alert should have been issued in minutes. Unfortunately, Springfield PD is not authorized to issue Amber Alerts. That is the responsibility of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

 

At 6:00 p.m. the Springfield PD issued a news release and posted information about the abduction to their social media sites. Unfortunately, a news release carries neither weight no the sense of urgency of an Amber Alert. A statewide Amber Alert was issued at 7:07 p.m., two-hours and nineteen-minutes after Hailey was kidnapped. Information was distributed to all area law enforcement agencies and media outlets. The suspect’s description, vehicle make, color & license plate were finally released to the public.

 

The National Amber Alert program was broken upon conception. Like all state Amber Alert systems, the Missouri plan was conceived and created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). I know because I attended one of their steering committee concept meetings and argued against their old technology and their bureaucratic approach. My ideas were rejected by the architects of the plan at NCMEC.

 

Amber Alert should be a local, not statewide system because kidnapping is a local crime. When children are murdered the distance between where the child was last seen and their body was recovered was less than 1.5 mile in 46% of cases and less than 12 miles in 76.5% of cases. The same study clearly demonstrates that missing children are killed within a very short time after they are abducted. 46.8% are dead within an hour, and 76.2% are dead within three hours. Had the Amber Alert been issued within minutes, not hours of Hailey’s abduction, she might very well be alive today. Clearly, in the most desperate cases like Hailey Owens, time is of the essence. We need action, not red tape.

 

The rationale for this cumbersome approach to the Amber Alert is to guard against ‘cry wolf’ scenarios. I have never seen evidence of ‘cry wolf’, but I have seen plenty of kids die because it took too long to issue an Amber Alert. I believe that ‘cry wolf’ is nothing more than a fiction created to justify a broken system. We trust cops with guns, why not trust them to issue Amber Alerts?

 

NCMEC there is blood on your hands. That the Amber Alert failed to save Hailey Owens is not the fault of Springfield PD or the Missouri State Highway Patrol. They were simply following a protocol created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

How the Amber Alert Should Work

Amber Alert revI couldn’t be happier that Hannah Anderson was rescued and that the Amber Alert was effective in her case. Unfortunately, too many deserving kids fall through the cracks through carved in stone criteria, time delays or other bureaucratic nonsense. I have listed my problems with the Amber Alert and easy fix solutions. The problem is that the architects of the system, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are more concerned with control than efficiency than saving children. Therefore I doubt that my criticisms will be heard.

 

  1. Statewide alerts are mindless. States have borders, but kidnappers do not. In the Anderson kidnapping I received an Amber Alert, yet I live 500 miles away from the crime scene, while people in Yuma, AZ did not receive the Amber Alert despite the fact that they live about 110 miles from the crime scene. I recommend a radius around the crime scene that is not bound by borders.
  2. The current iteration of the smart phone Amber Alert provides sketchy information and cannot be easily verified. Provide a link or other easy reference.
  3. Local authorities should be able to issue Amber Alerts within their jurisdiction. Kicking responsibility up the ladder to a State authority wastes time, results in filtered information and costs lives. Currently, it takes far too long to issue an Amber Alert and statistics clearly state that if a child is murdered as a result of a kidnapping, almost ¾ of those children will be dead within a 3-hour radius.
  4. Don’t alienate your audience. Issuing a bleating Amber Alert in the dead of night or early hours of the morning will cause people to opt out of the service. A better approach would be to depend upon radio and highway signs in the wee hours to notify those individuals that are on the roadways. Radio is and always has been the primary delivery system for motorists, and motorists are the ones who need to know.
  5. Fast food outlets, service stations, truck stops, and highway motels should be notified with graphic/text Amber Alert information.
  6. Don’t be too strict with the Amber Alert criteria. My Polly, Jessica Lunsford, Adam Walsh, Elizabeth Smart wouldn’t qualify under the current system.
  7. Because of the strict criteria Amber Alert is most useful in family abductions. Predators don’t leave vehicle or license plate information.

 

 

Quit Whining about the WEA Amber Alert

Hannah Anderson-amber-alertThere has been much criticism about the Amber Alert issued for 16-year-old Hannah and her 8-year-old brother Ethan Anderson. The roll out was an abysmal, screeching mess, which is unfortunate because It has fantastic potential. They simply need to be judicious in the way that an Amber Alert is distributed. Violet and I received the Amber Alert at about 10:45 on Monday evening, yet we live 500 miles from where the crime occurred. There was limited information and no photo’s included in the Alert. We were unable to click on the alert for more details, and could not immediately find anything online. Some people received it more than once throughout the night, and that is going to cause people to opt out of the program.

 

People have to quit whining and complaining about this on social media, because it is very simple to opt out of receiving WEA Amber Alerts. However, the better solution is for those responsible for issuing the alert, because there are definite steps to maximize and improve the system. It is an absurdist policy to do a statewide distribution when you should be doing a geographically based distribution. Since the majority of abductions are local crimes, the first distribution should be based on a 100-150 mile radial distribution from the crime scene. I received the Alert 500 miles away, but residents of Yuma, AZ did not and they are barely 100 miles away from where Hannah was kidnapped. In other words, you want to put the crime scene in the middle of the distribution, because the kidnapper could theoretically be headed in any direction. Kidnapping is not bound by borders, and neither should Amber Alerts.

 

They need to include people in the system by being smart, not alienate them by being stupid. Most people want to help, but they don’t want to be unnecessarily bothered. Being woken up multiple times throughout the night by a screeching Amber Alerts will result in large numbers of people opting out of the program. Those in charge say that they want to enlist late night and early morning drivers to be on the lookout for the suspect vehicle. That can be accomplished by simply utilizing radio stations and highway signs. After all, that is where the Amber Alert came from in the first place.