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Is Utah overusing the Amber Alert system? This lawmaker thinks so

By Bridger Beal-Cvetko

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    SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KSL) — If you tend to ignore notifications about Amber Alerts because of their frequency, you may not be alone.

Utah Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, wants to create better criteria for issuing Amber Alerts, saying “overuse” has led to people ignoring them. He is the sponsor of HB266, which prohibits law enforcement agencies from issuing Amber Alerts for reported runaways or in issues of a child custody dispute, “unless there is a credible threat of imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death to the child.”

Wilcox said law enforcement agencies have “misused” Amber Alerts in runaway cases and child custody cases recently.

“The problem is, when we do that, then people start to ignore them,” he said. “And so we started turning off the Amber Alerts. … If you notice the last few we’ve had, they had to clarify, ‘By the way, this one’s for real’ in the notice itself, right? That shouldn’t be what’s happening.”

Wilcox said his bill is a “tightening” of the rules around sending Amber Alerts, but said it contains exceptions for custody or runaway cases if officers believe a child is at risk of harm. HB266 would allow agencies to issue alerts if the agency “confirms that an abduction of the child has occurred,” if they believe “there is a credible threat of imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death to the child” and if there is “sufficient descriptive information about the child, alleged abductor or the circumstances.”

The bill would not allow Amber Alerts for reported runaways, or for the “taking, concealing, or detaining of a child by the child’s parent during a child custody dispute regarding the child,” except when there is a credible threat of danger.

“What we’re talking about is reasonable restrictions on the overuse that has diminished the efficacy of the program,” Wilcox said.

HB266 received unanimous support from the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Monday and will be sent to the full chamber for consideration.

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