Rep. Joe Dorman plans to introduce legislation to allow the state to establish a new alert system that would notify law enforcement and citizens when a child runs away from home.
“Really, the number of runaways that we have in the state, as well as in the nation, is just outrageous,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “It's tough for law enforcement to determine which ones are legitimate and which ones are just kids who are angry and are just hiding from their parents for a couple of days at a friend's home.”
According to Gene Thaxton, director of the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Public Communications System, the National Crime Information Center has just over 1,000 active runaway cases in Oklahoma. He said there were around 125 reported cases of runaways in Oklahoma City last February.
Thaxton, who runs the Amber Alert system for Oklahoma, said that while he does think the issue is an important one, he worries that with such a high number of cases, law enforcement and the public may reach a point of fatigue after receiving numerous alerts.
“You almost get to the point where you desensitize law enforcement and even the public because there are so many of them,” Thaxton said.
The proposed system would be similar to Amber Alerts, which are sent out to law enforcement and received by citizens through text messages, whenever a child is abducted in Oklahoma.
In the proposed system, the alerts would only go to law enforcement and citizens who opt to receive them through a state-run website. Dorman plans to address the issue of fatigue by tailoring the alerts so that they are only sent to people within the ZIP code or area in which the child ran away.
Rodney Wilson, an oil-field consultant from Weatherford, has trouble sympathizing with the idea of alert fatigue. His 16-year-old daughter JaRay went missing last October and hasn't been seen since. She was initially categorized as a runaway, and they now believe she may have been abducted.