Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Amber Alert successes: Children safe in Ohio, Ky.

Coordinator of alerts in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky said the two recent incidents are proper use of system

By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

Two warnings - one on Sunday and one Monday - again alerted Tristate drivers to missing children and to be on the lookout for their potential abductors.

This time, authorities who oversee Amber Alerts locally say the sometimes confusing system worked well:

• Four children, ages 2 to 10, were found safe in Columbus on Monday morning after a motorist saw the alert there and led police to the children. Police said they had been taken in suburban Dayton by their step-grandfather, who is a convicted sex offender.

• Two teens were found safe in Somerset, Ky., Sunday night after they'd been taken from Rushville, Ind., by their father. Authorities initially described the father as extremely dangerous.

National protocol suggested by the U.S. Department of Justice recommends that the alerts be used when a child is believed to be in imminent danger. The alerts are not intended to be used in more common custody disputes, when one parent may not return a child on time to another parent.

"Both were good - they should've been Amber Alerts," said Glendale Police Chief Matt Fruchey, coordinator of the alerts in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. "The officers got the right information. They got it out fast."

Motorists and those listening to radio and watching television were alerted here in both incidents because the abductors could have driven through Cincinnati. Cincinnati police disseminate the alerts to local media through a voice mail system that pages each news agency.

"We never want to not put it out and (then) have something happen," said Lt. Jeff Butler, Cincinnati communications supervisor.

Still, authorities acknowledge that glitches happen in the system, which involves dozens of police agencies, multiple television and radio stations and the ARTIMIS traffic sign system.

And there have been problems locally.

When Butler County issued its first alert, in June, news agencies weren't immediately notified. Most learned about it 20 minutes later, by fax. In that case, the 6-year-old Fairfield boy was found OK.

Amber Alert officials and members of local media outlets plan to discuss the system and related issues at a meeting Thursday. Fruchey said he also is updating local protocol, which he hopes to disseminate in September. He also expects to stage a test of the system this fall.

"Just in my little town, I've got three elementary schools within two miles," he said. "This is important to me."

Amber Alerts started in 1997 as a legacy to Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington, Texas. Residents there contacted media, suggesting they issue alerts to try to prevent other similar incidents.

The media teamed up with police to develop the first Amber Alert system.

In 2001, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children took AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) nationwide. The program is now coordinated by the Justice Department.

It counts 142 recoveries of children and says Amber plans exist in 98 communities across the country.

Greater Cincinnati started its Amber program in the spring of 2000.


E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

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