Are we overreacting?

Child abduction alerts can lose effectiveness if they're overdone

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Nothing is more panic-inducing than the abduction of a child, particularly by a stranger.

For most of human history, we’ve under-reacted to such situations. Only in recent decades have authorities given frantic parents the benefit of the doubt and issued missing-persons alerts.

It’s gotten even better than that. With the help of today’s technology, and the eagerness of broadcasters to help, missing children’s reports can be sent to everyone with a television almost instantly. All 50 states have some form of emergency broadcasts of child abduction reports.

Nationally, it’s called an “Amber Alert” – a name that’s both an acronym and a
memorial: It stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response,” but it’s really named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped off her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and murdered.

Similarly, in Georgia, “Levi’s Call” is named after 11-year-old Levi Frady – who, too, was kidnapped off his bicycle in Forsyth County, Ga., and murdered.

After the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is convinced the criteria have been met – including reasonable belief of an abduction of someone 17 or younger and a description of both victim and perpetrator – “Broadcasters are requested to run the alert at least twice the first hour and once every hour for the next three hours,” according to the GBI website.

It’s a delicate balance, however. You don’t want to overplay your hand and start crying wolf, by interrupting television programming across the region or state without a firm belief that a child truly has been kidnapped and is in imminent danger.

On the other hand, you want to err on the side of child protection. You don’t want authorities to avoid issuing an alert and then wind up with a deceased child.

We were reminded of the dilemma Sunday, when area broadcasts were interrupted with an alert for a missing Savannah-area teen believed to be in the custody of a man headed toward Atlanta.

The 14-year-old girl was found safe Monday in Norcross. And, as it turns out, she had left with a 24-year-old man she’d met on a phone chat line. She had posed as a 19-year-old. News reports indicate the man came from Norcross to see her and left with her after a confrontation with her parents.

This incident may have met the requirements for the statewide alert – and, for all we know, she might have been in danger.

But in hindsight, the circumstances may make some think there was an overreaction – and that can risk dulling people’s senses to future alerts.

In addition, the blaring, inescapable nature of the alerts is more than a little disconcerting.

They also may distort the truth – which, as one observer put it, is that child abductions are “among the rarest of crimes against children.”

“Kidnapping,” writes Niesha Lofing in the Sacramento Bee, “makes up less than 2 percent of all violent crimes against juveniles reported to police, with stranger kidnapping being the most uncommon form of reported kidnappings.”

In a report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, she notes, it seems that of 58,200 child abductions reported before 2000, only 115 were the stereotypical stranger kidnappings we all fear.

That doesn’t mean we should lower our guard. Only that we should keep our wits about us.

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Young Fred
Young Fred 11/16/12 - 03:01 am
Yes we do overreactAt least

Yes we do overreact

At least in regards to custody battles between parents.

Unless we have reason to believe the parent will put the child in danger.

It cheapens the real danger of a “snatched child” if everyone in the listening area is wondering if this is “a real” snatch or mom versus dad.

Techfan 11/16/12 - 06:17 am
Everyone in the nation

Everyone in the nation recognizes the term "Amber Alert". Even HI ("Maile Amber Alert") and AR ("Morgan Nick Amber Alert") who are among the only 3 states that differ use "Amber Alert" in the name. It's tragic that Levi Frady was murdered, but why in the heck couldn't Ga just use the same phrase as the others? I doubt most residents of Ga know what "Levi's Call" means, much less travelers though the state from other areas. They would, however, know an "Amber alert". It would seem logical for a nationwide alert to have a consistent name form state to state.

Riverman1 11/16/12 - 08:44 am
The facts are stranger

The facts are stranger kidnappings are very rare as the editorial stated.

soapy_725 11/16/12 - 09:51 am
why in the heck couldn't Ga just use the same phrase

Because some state legislator got kudos and glad hands all around for his selfless work. Not to mention reelection. Duplication of services feeds bureaucratic jobs. It is a cancer on t he land. If someone is not asking for government entitlements, go out an recruit applicants.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 11/16/12 - 11:27 pm

Precisely correct, Dichotomy.

swcohen 11/17/12 - 06:15 pm
At least they aren't announcing WWIII

Who doesn't thrill at the familiar emergency broadcast tones that interrupt golden oldies on the afternoon drive?

I'm always relieved that it's not to announce a swarm of incoming nuclear missiles... I'm old enough to remember when that was a real possibility... Just some estranged parent driving away with junior, but without permission.

"Whew," I say aloud. No impending annihilation, just a disfunctional family acting out. Think I'll leave the car radio off for the remainder of the commute.

shrimp for breakfast
shrimp for breakfast 11/17/12 - 10:54 pm
I think the Amber alert is priceless

I don't care if the television programming is interupted to advise of a child abduction. People need to put themselves in the parents shoes. Wouldn't you want the authorities to do everything possible to help find your child?
Keep the Amber alert just the way it is!

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