Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Amber Hagerman

Pressure on Police

A number of Amber Alerts have been issued by small police agencies that appeared unaware of the federal guidelines. In other cases, parents of runaways or parties in custody disputes have pressured both the police and the media to issue alerts.

And those are the cases that threaten to bring about what some call "Amber Alert fatigue."

The system was designed for confirmed abductionsa tiny fraction of missing-child casesnot as a tool to help bring home every kid who goes missing.

"It has not ever been meant for missing children, lost children or child custody cases," Dee Anderson, the Fort Worth-area sheriff who helped initiate the first Amber Plan, told that city's Star-Telegram. "Almost at times the plan is a victim of its own success, because now everyone wants it used when a child is missing."

Sheriff Dee Anderson
Sheriff Dee Anderson

Some experts also fear that overuse of alerts could cause crime hysteria in the country by giving the impression that abductions are routine, even though they are rare.

But what parent wouldn't demand all the resources available to find a lost child? This visceral instinct often leads to conflicts with law enforcers.

For example, no Amber Alert was issued when Brianna Maitland, 17, went missing in Vermont in 2004.

Brianna Maitland
Brianna Maitland

The girl's father, Bruce, became increasingly critical of the slow-footed, close-mouthed response of police.

Vermont State Police appeared to retaliate with a press conference at which a lieutenant cited Brianna's "very questionable background involving drug use" and "some unhealthy lifestyle choices in her life prior to her disappearance."

Bruce Maitland was stunned.

In an interview last year with Crime Library, he called the press conference "a dirty trash Brianna," which eased the pressure to solve the disappearance.

She is still missing.

"The police did not cause Brianna's disappearance," Bruce Maitland said, "but the police might be the reason that she hasn't been found."