Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Amber Hagerman

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Judy Martin, a victim's rights advocate in Cleveland, said Amber Alerts are "underused, too restrictive and too subjective."

"Too many kids get left out and are lost because of arbitrary decisions by law enforcement," said Martin, founder of two support and advocacy groups, Survivors/Victims of Tragedy and Black on Black Crime. "It's unconscionable."

She cited the case of Shakira Johnson, 11, who disappeared from a dance in Cleveland in the fall of 2003. Police declined to issue an Amber Alert, even though witnesses saw the girl get into a red cara basis for an alert, under the federal guidelines.

Shakira Johnson
Shakira Johnson

The child's dismembered body was found in a vacant lot a month later.

Martin does not buy the "Amber Alert fatigue" argumentthat overuse of the system will lead to the same yawning response that people eventually had to the faces of missing child on milk cartons. 

"I think that's ridiculous," she said. "It's not like we're going to have 100 Amber Alerts each day in any individual area. Maybe nationwide, but not in any given city or state."

Nancy Ruiz said inconsistent decisions about issuing Amber Alerts have left her with the impression that law enforcers make value judgments about a particular child's worth.

"If Gina had been a police officer's daughter, I have no doubt that she would have gotten an Amber Alert," Ruiz said.

That sort of insider influence has been cited as a factor in a number of questionable alerts.

This summer, the troubled granddaughter of Joe Bruno, a powerful Republican politician in New York state, turned up missing. Without calling it an Amber Alert, the police and the media in New York gave the case the full alert treatmenteven though the young woman was 20, had a history of flakiness and had phoned home after her disappearance.

Joe Bruno
Joe Bruno

Her photo was omnipresent in the media for several days, and she was located in Times Square, walking with a man she had met on the Internet. The state police superintendent twice held press conferences about the young woman, and the media dedicated untold air time and column inches to the case.

Such obvious special treatment for an influential figure confirmed for Ruiz that police are willing to bend missing-person guidelines as needed.

 

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