Tough Call: Dilemma of an Amber Alert

"Every second works against you, and the toughest calls are when you have no information either way and the kid is just gone," Anderson said. "You're not supposed to activate them on a lost child, but the longer the clock ticks the more the pressure mounts."

Authorities Fear Overuse, Desensitization of Public

"I worry that the system will become useless," Anderson added. "You need to save this plan for when the circumstance is the worst -- it needs to be your direst abduction."

The more Amber Alerts are used, the less effective they will become, said Anderson, who worries of a day when someone hearing an alert over the radio will just switch the dial, tired of the constant announcements.

In 2007, 68 of the 278 children who were part of an Amber Alert were found, nearly 24 percent. Since the program was first implemented in December 1996, 393 of the approximately 1,000 Amber Alerts activated -- 39 percent -- have succeeded, according to Bob Hoever, associate director of training for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"This is incredible," said Hoever of the statistics.

In addition to the constant worry that law enforcement will act too quickly to issue an Alert, there are always some that are acted on correctly but turn out to be disingenuous tips or hoaxes.

"In one case an individual killed a child and then tried to active an Amber Alert to cover up the murder," said Hoever, who added that he hass also seen people try to get police attention for their stolen vehicles by claiming a child was riding in the backseat.

There are punishments for those agencies that activate too many alerts, and while no department has yet to be stripped of their Amber Alert privileges, many officers are questioned after the fact about why they chose to implement the system.

Eager to get a head start on an investigation when a missing child is announced abducted, officials must scramble to make a decision, and account for it later.

"Authorities are put in this balancing act of weighing the safety and welfare concerns of the child versus the overuse and abuse of the system," Hoever said. "If the system is used too much the public criticizes them and loses interest in the integrity of the program."

"Basically," he said, "they're damned if they do and damned if they don't."

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