Originally Published: August 28, 2002 6:10 p.m.
PRESCOTT – Rural counties in Arizona will also participate in the Sept. 16 initiation of the Arizona Child Abduction Alert Plan.
The plan, modeled after the Amber Alert Plan that recently gained notoriety in California, will allow law enforcement agencies to broadcast information about abducted children throughout the state within a matter of minutes.
Art Brooks, president of the Arizona Broadcasters Association, said that when broadcasters and law enforcement agencies began working on the alert program almost two years ago, they wanted to introduce the program to the state in stages. He said they originally intended the plan to begin in the metropolitan areas of the state first and then slowly introduce it to the rural areas.
"The plan rolled along much better than we thought it would," he said. "So now they are opening it statewide."
Arizona Department of Public Safety Public Information Officer Frank Valenzula said agencies will use the plan only in specific cases of child abduction. He said field officers must believe the child is not yet 18 years old, in imminent danger, may have a disability and that someone abducted the child. He said the system is not intended to settle custody issues between parents.
"Although it will be on a case-by-case basis," he said.
If the officer believes the scenario meets the criteria, he or she must call DPS and someone will patch them into a line that goes directly to a federally designated radio station that will carry and distribute the information provided by the officer across the state. The message also will include a phone number that witnesses can call if they see the suspect or the victim.
Law enforcement agencies asked broadcasters to repeat the information and any updates every 15 minutes for the first two hours the child is missing and then every half-hour for the next two hours the child is missing.
"Law enforcement told us that the first few hours are golden in cases like these," Brooks said. "This is built on speed."
He added that officials are working with the Arizona Department of Transportation to use overhead emergency signs already in place along highways and interstates to publish information.
"This might happen by Sept. 16," he said.
Valenzula said he thinks the system will work especially well in rural areas, such as Yavapai County.
"You almost have an advantage because people are familiar … with the locale," he said. "People seem to be more in tune with the community."
Brooks said the system will use the Emergency Alert System that is already in place in radio and television stations.
"So the cost is zero dollars," he said.
Gov. Jane Hull called the new program a "tool to help save the lives of our children."
"But ensuring the success of AZ Child Alert will require the vigilance of every citizen. We will broadcast the information but you must be our eyes and ears," Hull said.
Officials from the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office and Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley Police departments all agreed that the system will provide a better way of locating abducted children. Many of the agencies currently are training officers to use the system.
"As a parent (this system) will hopefully ease your mind," said YCSO spokeswoman Sharon Wachter. "This is a great idea."
Contact C. Murphy Hébert at firstname.lastname@example.org.