Amber Alerts and Code Adam Alerts
By Aaron Larson
An Amber Alert is a notice to motorists about a child who has potentially been kidnapped. Notices are distirubed by television, radio, the Internet, and highway signs, to notify the public when a child is abducted. Some people will also receive notices through their pagers or cellular phones. An Amber Alert notice provides details about the abducted child and, when possible, information about a suspect's vehicle.
The Amber Alert system is named after Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old Texas girl who was kidnapped in 1996, while riding her bicycle in her neighborhood. Four days later, she was found dead. "AMBER" is now an acronym for "America's Missing Broadcast Emergency Response".
The advantage of the Code Amber system is that shortly after a suspected kidnapping, thousands of motorists will be on notice with information about the suspect, and can notify the police with their observations of any suspicious vehicles or activity. As more than seventy percent of children who are killed by their kidnappers are murdered within three hours of their disappearance, prompt and effective action can be crucial. This system is credited with the rescue of a number of children, including a two-year-old Texas girl who was returned to her mother after her father took her away at gunpoint.
A Code Adam alert is a notice distributed through a building where a child is found to be missing, which triggers a system of securing the premises and systematically searching for the missing child. A good description of the child is relayed to individuals throughout the organization, who monitor doors and parking lots to make sure that no child matching the description wanders out alone, or is removed from the premises by an inappropriate person. Many governments have created Code Adam systems for public buildings, and some major retailers have similarly created Code Adam systems.
Although there is some dispute as to the origin of the name, the most common account is that Code Adam alerts are named after six-year-old Adam Walsh, who was murdered following his abduction from a shopping mall in 1981. Adam's father, John Walsh, subsequently advocated for better police response in kidnapping cases, and later hosted the television series, "America's Most Wanted".
Obviously, there is great advantage in creating a system which prevents a kidnapping from being successfully completed, and that is the ultimate goal of the Code Adam system.
There is a potential downside to public alert systems, which could arise in the even that they are overused. Just like the story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", if the public becomes accustomed to Amber Alerts or Code Adam Alerts to the point of ignoring the information, people may not respond to them. Additionally, there must be sufficient useful information about the child or suspect to make helpful the involvement of the public. Although more than 800,000 children are reported missing each year, but the majority of them are runaways or have been taken by a parent or relative. At the same time, acting on concerns about overuse carries its own risk, in that an Alert may not be issued in a case where it might help rescue a child.
To help avoid problems with overuse and underuse, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has created criteria for the police to use when screening a report of a missing child for possible use of the Amber Alert system, including:
- Law enforcement has confirmed that a child has been abducted;
- The law enforcement agency believes that the circumstances surrounding the abduction indicate that the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death; and
- There is enough descriptive information about the child, suspected abductor, and/or the suspect's vehicle to believe that an immediate broadcast alert will help.
There is also a cost associated with equipment and training associated with the Amber Alert system, although most people will find the cost acceptable.
There are fewer problems with a "Code Adam"-type system, which is more likely to involve store or government employees than to involve members of the public. The employees typically receive training in an established procedure, permitting a prompt response to reports of missing children.
Copyright © 2000 - 2011 Aaron Larson. All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you believe you may lawfully use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article under the Fair Use exception to copyright law, except as otherwise authorized by the author of the article, you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.