Concerns over the use of the Amber Alert program in Oklahoma

Thursday, January 13th 2005, 10:34 am
By: News On 6

This week, a young girl in Edmond thought she saw an abduction, but police say no one reported a missing child, so they called off the alert. It's one of several Amber Alerts in Oklahoma recently that has turned out to be nothing.

This comes as the nation observes the 9th anniversary of Amber Hagerman's kidnapping and murder in Arlington, Texas. Her death put into motion a new system to try to prevent child abductions. But as News on 6 reporter Steve Berg explains, there are still questions about the alert that bears her name and how well it works.

The very first Tulsa use of the Amber Alert in 2000 was a success. But just Wednesday, there was a false alarm near Oklahoma City. A few weeks before that in Bartlesville, one that didn't meet the right criteria. And a few months ago in Tulsa, police say, an outright hoax by a woman who told police her child was in her stolen car so they'd respond more quickly.

State Representative Lucky Lamons has concerns. "The Amber Alert probably has the biggest effect when it's used seldom." Lamons has a new law in the works that would beef up the penalties for a bogus Amber Alert from a misdemeanor to a felony and double the fine. "My whole intent of this legislation is to punish those who willfully, not the law enforcement, but those individuals that willfully activate the system in order to get law enforcement to their house or to their crime faster."

Police say the false alarms are a huge waste of money and manpower. “There were over 60 officers in a two square mile area, at Pine and Peoria." And he worries about the "crying wolf" syndrome, which the public will start to ignore the warnings. As a former cop, Lamons understands police wanting to find the Bartlesville boy quickly, but he was taken by his father, which doesn't meet the stranger abduction requirement. "We also don't want to abuse the system to where it gets to where there's an alert every other day and it cheapens the effectiveness of the Alert."

Overall though, they say there are more pluses than minuses. Tulsa Police officer Sgt Dave Roberts: "Nationwide, I believe there's been well over a hundred children recovered successfully and safely because of the Amber plan."