Attorney general urges statewide system for child abduction ale

Thursday, August 15, 2002

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Attorney General Jay Nixon is pushing for communities across the state to set up a system for alerting the public when a child is abducted.

Broadcast media and law enforcement already coordinate an alert system in several jurisdictions, including Boone County, St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield.

If communities lack alert systems, "we want them to have one," Nixon spokeswoman Mary Still said. "We've got some background information for law enforcement and broadcasters" on how to set up such systems.

The systems -- sometimes called Amber Alerts -- dispatch descriptions and other details about missing children.

In a typical system, the information is then carried on radio and TV stations.

The program originated in Arlington, Texas, after the 1996 abduction, sexual assault and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman. Convinced the girl could have been saved if her kidnapping had been instantly publicized, residents persuaded a radio station to start the system.

Fast action pays off

Numbers from the U.S. Department of Justice show the importance of getting information out quickly. Of abducted children who are killed, nearly three-fourths die in the first three hours.

Nixon, speaking at a meeting of the Missouri Sheriff's Association in Branson on Monday, said the alert system should be activated when there is useful, specific information about an abductor or a suspect vehicle that can be shared with the public, "particularly those out driving our highways."

Some areas also transmit vehicle and abductor information on electronic billboards, but Nixon is not proposing such a system for Missouri.

Instead, he advised local broadcasters and law enforcement groups to set up similar programs locally.

"We don't have the system of signs on the highways, but we do have broadcasters very interested in doing it, and that's a large part of it," Still said.

The Missouri Broadcasters Association "wholeheartedly supports the development" of a statewide alert system, Nixon said in a prepared statement.

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