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Shriek! Texts on missing kids startle cell users

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm •  Published: February 1, 2013
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The organization activates the messages seen on billboards and now cellphones once officials tell them an Amber Alert is necessary. Since the program's inception in 1996, Hoever said Amber Alerts have helped officials safely return at least 602 children.

So far, 19 Amber Alerts have been issued under this new system in 14 states including Texas, Ohio, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Arizona, according to figures kept by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

While no Amber Alert has been issued in California under the new system, authorities say it's only a matter of time and people need to know it's going to happen.

"I know this is not our system, but we're going to be receiving the phone calls when this goes off," said California Highway Patrol Capt. Greg Ferrero, California's Amber Alert coordinator.

Ferrero said he's seen the stir caused by the alerts when they caught people off guard in Florida and Texas, where four have already been issued. He said FEMA needs to tell the public about the system, and has sent in suggestions to improve the program such as providing people with details like the license plate or where the abduction occurred.

Los Angeles Police Department Det. Kevin Coffey trained local law enforcement officers on the alerts last week and found most were surprised by the new reach they already have.

"We've never had this ability," Coffey said. "We're going to have instantaneous connectivity with every person with a cellphone within our county and potentially multiple counties in the state."

Timothy Griffin, a professor of criminal justice at University of Nevada, Reno has studied Amber Alerts for the last eight years. He said he favors an Amber Alert system that's more targeted, but his research also questions whether the system's effectiveness has been oversold.

"Amber Alerts, in most cases, make no difference whatsoever," Griffin said. "Even when you look at ones where Amber Alerts make a difference, it doesn't happen fast, within that crucial three-hour difference" that the alerts are supposed to target. But he said he's hoping this system will prove him wrong.

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Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams