Amber Alert proves beneficial

Published 9:12 pm Wednesday, June 11, 2003

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP - Managing Editor
Another week and yet another report of one of our nation's young people being abducted from their home. It is a strange world indeed where a man can enter a family's home and take a 9-year-old girl despite the best efforts of a mother and brother who allegedly fought the criminal every step of the way.
Fortunately, this case has a happy ending. After more than two days of being among the missing, Jennette Tamayo was reunited with her mother at the San Jose Police Department. Not only can that community celebrate the return of Jennette, they can also feel proud that their neighborhoods will be a bit safer as a suspect, not yet identified, has been arrested and charged with the kidnapping.
At some point on Sunday night, Jennette walked into a Palo Alto, Calif. convenience store and told the clerk there she was in trouble. At that point, the clerk realized who she was and called the police.
For most of us, we first heard about Jennette on Friday, shortly after she went missing. By Saturday, people from coast to coast knew about this little girl and her family thanks in large part to the Amber Alert. Named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was murdered after being abducted from her neighborhood in Arlington, Texas in 1996, the Amber Alert provides a connection between law enforcement and media to help spread information regarding a missing child in a timely manner.
In the case of a missing child, time is an enemy for law enforcement. With each passing hour the odds of recovering an abducted child diminishes. While the recent Elizabeth Smart case stands as a unique exception, it is typical in drawn-out missing child cases that there will not be a happy ending. This is why the Amber Alert is so important.
While details of the Tamayo case have not been released, the question has been raised as to why the abductor let her go (if she didn't escape). Perhaps it was the intense pressure he felt knowing that everybody knew who Jennette was and that everyone was looking for her. Perhaps he felt that by getting rid of the source of his problems - the missing child - the pressure would subside.
Immediately after determining that a child has been kidnapped and is considered endangered, law enforcement officers launch an Amber Alert by informing broadcast media of critical details, including a description of the suspect and his vehicle. Then, radio and television stations use the Emergency Alert System to interrupt their programming with the emergency information. As a result, millions of people can be on the lookout almost immediately for the kidnapper's vehicle and the child.
In April, President George Bush put his signature on a bill that makes the Amber Alert the law of the land. Now states will work together with federal, state and local law enforcement as well as the media and bringing attention to disappearances and abductions. But, having it on a piece of paper is not the same as having policies and procedures in place within every sheriff or police department across the nation.
Media outlets should also have a plan. Even in our small community, local radio stations and the local cable access channel should have a plan in place to interrupt any broadcast for the sake of getting out Amber Alert information. The media is a crucial player in the Amber Alert. Television, radio and newspapers are the key for almost any success.
Another key player in the Amber Alert is the members of each and every community. It is our job to keep our eyes and ears open and inform the authorities of any suspicions we may have. The success of the Amber Alert system will come down to how everyday folks react to the initial alert.