Are we suffering from alert overload?

From Amber alerts to Silver alerts, how effective are these notifications?

CHICAGO (WGN) — In the 20 years since the National Amber Alert System first became a legacy of missing and murdered girls, Alerts have directly led to the recovery of 1,085 children. Despite these successes, some families feel excluded from the hope that notifications offer.

“I believe if we had the Amber Alert, we wouldn’t be here right now…I think they would have been home with us right now,” said La Shann Walker, mother and the grandmother of two people who have been missing for almost seven years.

King Walker was just two years old when he went missing in Gary, Indiana, with his 21-year-old parent, Diamond, who has special needs.

King’s grandmother says the family pleaded with Gary police to issue an Amber Alert, but were repeatedly pushed back because detectives said they didn’t have enough evidence to prove that they had been kidnapped or identify a suspect.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children helps coordinate the Amber Alert program and officials say states are intentionally being selective about the criteria that must be met to issue an alert.

“One of the questions that always comes up is [that] there is a concern for desensitization … the public there will feel alert fatigue, ”said Alan Nanavaty of the center.

Due to the success and public dissemination of Amber Alerts, many states have added other types of notifications. There are blue alerts to help track people suspected of killing or seriously injuring a police officer and silver alerts for missing seniors. Illinois also has “missing person in danger notices” that relay vehicle information to electronic traffic signs. Last year, 132 “endangered persons notices” were issued in Illinois and all but one have been resolved, according to state police.

Of the 203 Amber Alerts issued nationwide in 2020, 70% of suspected abductors had known relationships to the child. This indicates that the type of “stranger danger” scenarios that many parents fear are not at the root of most abductions. Last year, Illinois had five Amber Alert activations that state police say resulted in five children being successfully recovered.

Still, the program has its detractors.

“The majority of alerts do nothing,” said Timothy “Skip” Griffin, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Nevada-Reno, after studying the program which he called “crime control theater.” . Griffin’s research concludes that most “successful” Amber Alert cases in which the child is recovered unharmed would likely have ended that way even if no alert had been issued. “In the rare class of cases where the offender is motivated to really do the worst thing – the things that scare you and me – there’s nothing we can do…that’s the brutal truth.”

Griffin encourages law enforcement to be more transparent with the public about the limitations of the system and the strict criteria used that lead to the high solve rate.

After hearing about the Amber Alerts for years, King Walker’s family still feel abandoned and sad that the toddler’s disappearance didn’t trigger an alert. Nearly seven years after the disappearance, the family say even Gary’s police have stopped responding to their requests.

“They can’t speak for themselves and so right now I guess I’m the only one fighting,” La Shann Walker said.

Gary police did not respond to a request for comment.


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