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Archive for Thursday, August 22, 2002

Statewide Amber Alerts begin Oct. 1

August 22, 2002

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— Kansas plans to launch a statewide Amber Alert system on Oct. 1, to become one of a dozen states with a method for locating and recovering abducted children.

A 30-member task force formed by Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall has been meeting since March to get the program operating. It is a partnership by the attorney general, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Kansas Highway Patrol, local law enforcement and Kansas Association of Broadcasters.

Stovall made the system one of her initiatives as she completed her term this spring as president of the National Association of Attorneys General.

"I really thought it would take more to get it going, but that's not been the case," said Stovall, whose term in state office ends in January.

Stovall said Kansas had been working on the system long before a spate of child abductions gained national media attention during the summer. She cited the recent successful rescue of two California teenagers as proof the system works.

"There's no question we have a lot media attention," said Stovall, pointing to the reporters present at Wednesday's meeting. "Partnering with the media makes our job a lot easier."

Under the system, alerts will be broadcast much like severe weather alerts, using the Emergency Alert System that is activated when a tornado or other severe storm in imminent. The decision to activate the alert will be made when authorities determine a missing child has met the criteria established by the 30-member task force.

The system was first enacted in Arlington, Tex., after the 1996 abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman. Nationwide, the alerts are credited with helping rescue at least 26 children since 1996, most in the past two years as more state and local systems have joined.

Amber Alert systems are already being used in Wichita, Topeka and the Kansas City metropolitan areas. Training for the statewide program will begin Sept. 6, with a series of news conferences scheduled statewide on Oct. 1 to publicize the system.

A White House conference on missing, exploited and runaway children is scheduled for Sept. 24 in Washington.

Kansas task force members said public awareness would be the key to making the Kansas program work.

"The real end user is the public. If the phone doesn't ring, we just have a nice program," said Terry Knowles of the KBI, adding that videos about the program will be given to civic organizations.

"This is a positive, proactive message that should shared," he said.

KBI Agent Kyle Smith said there were only a handful of child abduction cases reported in Kansas each year. There currently are four missing children cases dating to the 1970s that remain unsolved, Smith said.

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