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Californias Amber Alert celebrates seven years of success
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It has been nearly seven years since California implemented its own statewide Amber Alert system. In that time, the system has helped recover 179 abducted children.
Created by a bill that I authored in 2002, and named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was abducted and murdered in Texas, California’s Amber Alert program gives California Highway Patrol the authority and responsibility to coordinate the Amber Alert system with Caltrans and TV and radio broadcasters.
It works like this: Local law enforcement agencies contact the CHP, which decides if the call meets the criteria for issuing an alert. If so, the CHP contacts the National Weather Service, which then broadcasts the message on all radio and television stations that have agreed to interrupt their regular programs. Furthermore, Caltrans activates its Changeable Message Signs. The alert asks the public to keep an eye out for the suspect, vehicle or victim.
(As a side note: California was the first state to use Changeable Message Signs along freeways to notify drivers to be on the lookout for suspect and victims).
The first California Amber Alert was activated just one day after it became state law on Aug. 1, 2002.
It was a CalTrans employee who helped solve the first Amber Alert case, which involved a man driving a Bronco with two abducted teenage girls.
While flagging traffic on Kern Highway 178 at the mile 82.2 post, Milton Walters saw the reported Bronco slowly drive by.
Walters, who didn’t have a pen handy, scratched the number on his metal lunch box with his keys and called the Kern County Sheriff and CHP, which led to a shoot-out with the suspect (who died) and the rescue of the two victims.
This incident solidified my belief in Amber Alert and gave further proof that the system is a powerful tool for curbing kidnappings and saving lives.
Coincidentally, this first Amber Alert occurred in the Antelope Valley — my hometown. While I found that interesting, I was overjoyed that two girls were saved and reunited with their families.
California has always had the infrastructure in place to make Amber Alert work. It was the coordinated efforts and the coming together of different agencies and the public that has made the program a success.
Californians should be proud of their Amber Alert program.
— George Runner represents California’s 17th Senate District, which includes the High Deserts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, Santa Clarita, and portions of San Fernando Valley and Ventura County.