Lawmakers supporting Amber Alert

By maura dowgin
Staff Writer

By maura dowgin
Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN — A representative from Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr.’s (R-13) office said a bill in support of a system to alert residents of missing-child cases will be signed by Gov. James E. McGreevey.

"We’re expecting him to sign the bill at any time," Jeff Spatola, Kyrillos’ legislative director, said. "He has indicated that he would."

McGreevey still is in the process of deciding when to sign it and whether or not it should be a public signing, Spatola said.

The system to be formally introduced is the Amber (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert system, which was created in response to a 1996 case in Arlington, Texas, where 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was kidnapped and murdered. Amber Alert has been credited with returning 27 abducted children.

The program has already been in effect in New Jersey since September, but the bill would officially codify it, Spatola said.

"What this bill does is to make it forever the law of New Jersey," he said.

Under the Amber Alert system, when children are kidnapped, law enforcement is required to notify television and radio stations, and other media outlets. Television and radio stations interrupt regularly scheduled programming to notify the public about the missing child, Spatola said. The Amber Alert provides descriptions of the child, the kidnapper, vehicles and accomplices in the kidnapping.

Highway signs also can be used to broadcast the information. Such signs were used in the rescue of two teenage girls who were abducted at gun point in Lancaster, Calif., on Aug. 1. The two girls were found after police used the system to notify the public of the girls’ abduction.

This is probably the best example of the system’s success, Spatola said. In this case, someone saw the victims and alerted police right away, he said.

"Because the first 48, really the first 24, hours after a child is abducted are the most important, you have to quickly get information out to the public so that they can be your eyes and ears," Spatola said.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 75 percent of child abduction homicides, the child is killed within the first three hours.

Only seven U.S. states don’t use the system.

"It’s nearly unanimous participation," Spatola said.

All law enforcement agencies and the Broadcasters’ Association support Amber Alert, Spatola said.

"It’s definitely a tool that these agencies like to have on hand," he said. "[There’s been] absolutely no opposition."