2003-04-03 / Other News

Guest Editorial

Guest Editorial Amber Alert System Is Vital

Amber Alert System Is Vital

Assemblyman SeddioAssemblyman Seddio

The recent return of Elizabeth Smart to her family was a rare happy ending to one family’s nightmare. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t often end that way. Many child abductions end in tragedy

Knowing firsthand the urgency with which missing children must be rescued, Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s father, has been calling for a nationwide alert system similar to New York’s Amber Alert and to the one that helped alert Utah authorities to Elizabeth’s location.

He’s right. New York has an Amber plan protecting children here, but without a nationwide system in place there’s nothing stopping an abductor from crossing into a state where it would be easier to go unnoticed.

The Amber abduction response plan was originally developed in Texas in 1996 after the abduction and brutal murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman. The crime so galvanized the community that radio executives and police came up with. a unique plan to spread the word about abductions - and it’s working. That’s why I supported a law to launch the Amber Alert here in New York (Ch. 375 of 2002).

The Amber Alert immediately notifies appropriate law enforcement agencies of information regarding the kidnapping - such as the description of a suspect or a vehicle. It also alerts local radio and television stations so that the public can be told who and what to look out for.

The logic behind the Amber Alert is to flood the region surrounding the kidnap site with all available, pertinent information so that it is next to impossible for the kidnapper to get away. It asks the public to become the additional eyes and ears of police. In addition to requiring a procedure for alerting police agencies and the public about an abduction, it encourages the use of innovative technology such as Onondaga County’s Lost Child Alert Technology Resource Program system (LOCATER) - a computer system tied into a national missing child database.

Since the original Amber Plan was established, at least 83 versions in 34 states have been adopted in

the United States and Canada, according to the

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. To date, the plan has been credited with the safe recovery of at least 44 children.

In fact, thanks to a recent Amber plan activation, a Syracuse teen who had been snatched off the street was safely released by her abductors, who apparently heard the alert on the radio.

When a child is abducted, every second counts. We must all be ready at a moment’s notice to quickly sound the alert far and wide. The Amber Alert gives children, and their families, a fighting chance. The Assembly played an instrumental role in making the Amber Alert system a reality in New York. It’s time we offer that protection to children across the country.

Amber Alerts are powerful tools to combat child kidnappings. We need Congress now to expand this program into a national system to safeguard all children. I commend Mr. Smart’s efforts to bring attention to this problem and urge Congress to quickly enact this important legislation.

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