Amber Alerts As Security Theater

Interesting analysis:

Since its birth 12 years ago after a fatal kidnapping in Texas, Amber Alert has quickly become one of the best-known tools in the national law enforcement arsenal. The warnings are familiar to anyone who watches cable TV news, especially during the summer, when the drumbeat of abduction stories seems to increase. Last year, 227 alerts were issued nationwide, each galvanizing interest in the local community and flooding police with tips. While the particulars of the state systems differ, the goal is the same: to disperse news of a kidnapping as widely and quickly as possible, in the hope that someone will spot the kidnapper before a child is harmed.

The program's champions say that its successes have been dramatic. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 400 children have been saved by Amber Alerts. Of the 17 children Massachusetts has issued alerts on since it created its system in 2003, all have been safely returned.

These are encouraging statistics -- but also deeply misleading, according to some of the only outside scholars to examine the system in depth. In the first independent study of whether Amber Alerts work, a team led by University of Nevada criminologist Timothy Griffin looked at hundreds of abduction cases between 2003 and 2006 and found that Amber Alerts -- for all their urgency and drama -- actually accomplish little. In most cases where they were issued, Griffin found, Amber Alerts played no role in the eventual return of abducted children. Their successes were generally in child custody fights that didn't pose a risk to the child. And in those rare instances where kidnappers did intend to rape or kill the child, Amber Alerts usually failed to save lives.

Posted on August 11, 2008 at 7:59 AM • 65 Comments

Comments

Nicholas WeaverAugust 11, 2008 8:48 AM

It may be MOSTLY ineffective, but sometimes there can be big wins, eg, like a case here recently where a mentally unstable non-custodial mother took her entire family and was living in a minivan.

So it may be mostly security theater (but the nondamaging kind, as the resources are low), but there have been high-value payoffs as well.

Rich WilsonAugust 11, 2008 9:00 AM

"Their successes were generally in child custody fights that didn't pose a risk to the child."

I thought one of the criteria of an Amber alert was that the child be in danger, which was not generally assumed in child custody cases. I'd be interested to know if that criteria has changed over the years. Saying 'no' to an Amber alert now would be akin to wanting the terrorists to win.

BrianAugust 11, 2008 9:08 AM

Sounds like he is saying that we're supposed to be afraid of the boogiemen under the bed rather than the ones in the closet. Even if we assume that the amber alert system does no good, is there actually increased 'worry' in the community because of it? News agencies are going to report on murdered children as a matter of news anyway so does he really expect us to believe that parents are going to be less worried about their kids just because they only hear about children that have actually been murdered, as opposed to the ones that are just missing? (Think fear of flying versus actual flight disasters) While you could argue that there is a temporary spike of fear when an alert is released, you could also say that this exposure actually numbs people to the danger. Do people still recoil with the same horror they felt for the first when it is the 20th they've seen? Doubtful. The article also doesn't make a strong case for the guy. He only studied a "proportion" of the cases and didn't have access to the files, yet can still draw an "unequivocal" result from his analysis. Couldn't have possibly been confirmation bias at work...

SecureAppsAugust 11, 2008 9:43 AM

Does this mean wanted signs should be taken down, also?

I always thought Amber Alerts were used not to instill fear, but to instill awareness of the child that is missing and enable the community to assist in the search.

CameramanAugust 11, 2008 9:51 AM

So? How much does an Amber Alert cost the public? Return on investement and all that.

I'd like to add I see no benefit in only using Amber Alerts in cases where the child is assumed to be in danger- in fact, custody dispute snatches is the one kidnapping catagory that the kidnapper is most likely to think it through, and the existance of Amber Alerts may provide a mild deterent by making it just that much harder.

AndrewAugust 11, 2008 10:04 AM

I've always thought that the Amber Alert mechanism is a great testing tool for local, state and national alert systems.

What could be a better test than the real McCoy? Even if a single life were not saved by Amber Alert, it would still be valuable for instant disaster notifications.

matt aAugust 11, 2008 10:17 AM

no worse than school lock downs everytime a criminal escapes custody. Really, since the dawn of time criminals have been escaping jails and prisons. How often do they go after schools and daycares? Criminals are more interested in trying to find transportation and fleeing than finding hostages. All I've seen it do is create a huge amount of panic amongst parents, upset the kids and waste resources guarding areas that escapees aren't going to focus on anyways.

clvrmnkyAugust 11, 2008 10:30 AM

@Cameraman:

"the existance of Amber Alerts may provide a mild deterent by making it just that much harder."

Talk to someone who does crisis work with children and parents. When a parent abducts a child over a custody battle, they have usually already convinced themselves that the other parent, courts and, well, /everyone/ is wrong, and they are the one in the right. No news bulletin is going to change that, and simply reinforces the feelings that the whole world is against them. An argument could be made that in cases like this, the psychology of an Amber Alert situation might force a parental abductor into make even more erratic and dangerous moves to evade capture.

Both jilted parents and child sex offenders are generally not deterred by Amber Alerts -- just for different reasons.

Ambers Alerts were never intended to be a deterrent. They were intended to windband basic information quickly to allow for public assistance.

I agree that we might still have a good return on investment here, and even one child saved &etc., &etc. But the article seems to be saying we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking they do much more than earlier endeavours.

If an Amber Alert makes a parent feel better because they feel that at least something is being done in a crisis time when all they can do is wait, then so be it.

DV Henkel-WallaceAugust 11, 2008 10:37 AM

Nicholas Weaver said "So it may be mostly security theater (but the nondamaging kind, as the resources are low)..."

That's not clear at all. Two important costs are having the cops deal with a flood of false leads when they could be working on crimes (a sort of denial of service attack) and the psychological feeling of intimidation people start to feel from the continual drumbeat of "alart" messages.

Strangely the latter can also happen in conjunction with "alert fatigue" (AKA "boy who cried wolf"). How many listen to the airport announcements any more?

AdamAugust 11, 2008 10:40 AM

Remember "Code Adam" ?
It's instant lock the doors and you are going nowhere. Brought to you by Walmart.

Code Adam is typically handled in two stages: first, the facility in question is locked down, and staff are given instructions to prevent anyone from entering or exiting the building while a search is conducted. If, after a specified period of time, the missing child is not located, a second search is initiated and local police are notified.


If the missing child is found, and is accompanied by an adult that cannot be positively identified as a parent or guardian, staff of the store in question are usually given permission to delay the subject until police arrive, provided that they do not place themselves, other staff members, or customers at risk.

Anon-y-mouseAugust 11, 2008 10:42 AM

One saved child is enough of a metric to justify the existence of Amber Alert.
I'm curious to hear points to the contrary.

Brandioch ConnerAugust 11, 2008 10:55 AM

@Anon-y-mouse
"One saved child is enough of a metric to justify the existence of Amber Alert. "

By that same "logic", anything is justified as long as ONE threat is prevented.

So now we cannot bring 4oz of toothpaste on a plan.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 11:02 AM

clvrmnky: "If an Amber Alert makes a parent feel better because they feel that at least something is being done in a crisis time when all they can do is wait, then so be it."

In other words: Amber Alerts are simple theater. But isn't this what Griffin argues?

But I think we can call this sort of "make a huge fuss and bother about nothing":

"When in danger,
when in doubt,
run in circles,
scream and shout."

... a variation on the subway suicide model of crisis management: when someone jumps in front of a train, the entire network must be disabled while official investigations are carried out, reports made, announcements broadcast, interviews with the media conducted.

But at no time are you allowed to mention the cause of the problem, as this would only encourage copy-cats.

That tens of thousands of people are not getting to work ... well, they need to show some respect!

Griffin is (in effect) suggesting that, unless the tracks have been damaged, we just hose down the front of the lead car, quickly sweep the debris from the tracks and carry on.

Seems like a plan to me.

AdamAugust 11, 2008 11:13 AM

@Anon-y-mouse
To your point - I know of multiple occurances in the DFW area of recovers/how were the NV researches measuring their cases?

On the Whole-
Technology exist to safely lowjack the kids, but it is seen as more useful to lowjack other items cars, electronics, etc... My bet is because people with children dont have disposable income.

jonnyAugust 11, 2008 11:13 AM

@mike:

"If it saves ONE live, then it works!"

I'm not sure you're being sarcastic or not, but let's have a go round anyway. You're assuming that:

1) The life would not have be saved otherwise
2) The resources directed toward saving that life wouldn't be going to something else.

In a world where an Amber alert is the only way to save children, and police just sit around waiting for tips to come in from amber alerts, you'd be correct.

However, those police could be out saving other lives, instead of manning phones taking in tips that may or may not be worth following up. And even after they take in all those tips, it may be good old fashioned police work that finds the child.

There are a finite number of resources, but an infinite number of ways to spend them. When it comes to things like this, we need to be careful that when we spend out resources, we get the most bang for our buck.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 11:16 AM

"One saved child is enough of a metric to justify the existence of Amber Alert. "

Maybe we should just initiate the Placebo Alert System (PAS).

It is a simple computer program that generates random alerts. Here is one:

"Alice has taken Bob hostage! Her demands are bizarre: a personal meeting with Bruce Schneier. Authorities say she drives a black Crypto XE minivan with a license plate of 'DES SUCKS', and are soliciting the public's help in tracking the whereabouts of this vehicle."

At some point, by sheer luck, it will manage to "save a life" .. and thus be justified on the basis of your 'logic'.

AdamAugust 11, 2008 11:25 AM

Bruce this is a silly blog post...
your NV researchers state "63 percent of Amber Alert issuances they looked at had 'no direct effect on recovery' "
,which means 37 percent did have a direct effect on recovery?

average 232 sunny days a year in Dallas therefore rain has no direct effect on the weather in Dallas and people shouldn't waste money on windshield wipers...

JohnAugust 11, 2008 11:28 AM

@Anon-y-mouse:
If the same resources spent on some hypothetical better program would save TEN children, then wouldn't we want to reallocate resources from Amber Alert in favor of that program?

Cost-benefit analyses may seem callous, but they're important. We don't have unlimited resources, so we need to get the biggest bang for our buck. If Amber Alerts aren't as effective as we'd like to think, that tells us that we should keep looking for something that's more effective.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 11, 2008 11:31 AM

"How many listen to the airport announcements any more?"

Homeland Security Alert Level Orange could be changed to Level Amber.

We all still would have no idea what to do or when, and ignore the message, but we might get a wonderful feeling that someone might be doing something somewhere -- saving the homeland and finding missing children, all at the same time. What a wonderful system.

Two birds with one stone...mission(s) accomplished.

paulAugust 11, 2008 11:32 AM

One way of measuring the impact of Amber alerts, or at least of the paranoia that they're part of, is in the loss of freedom for children and adults. Even though actual stranger kidnappings are very rare, parents restrict their kids from going out to play independently, parents who look different from their children may be stopped for questioning, and residential development patterns are strongly influenced by the "need" to have individual fenced-off, adult-visible play areas for every family in a neighborhood.

Insofar as the alerts contribute to maintaining an ongoing climate of fear, they're contributing to those costs.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 11:38 AM

Actually, Adam, if you had read the article completely, you would find that the 63 percent figure was immediately followed by the following analysis:

"That still leaves a third of cases in which Griffin and his team found that Amber Alerts played a role, either because they brought in tips or because the kidnapper, seeing the alert, lost his or her nerve and released the child. When Griffin looked at those cases, however, what he found was that very few were the sort of imminent-harm situations Amber Alert was created for. In fact, only a tenth of Amber Alerts, he determined, helped rescue a child from what Griffin saw as a dangerous situation - and that group included situations in which an armed parent abducted his or her own child. While an armed parent is not something to be taken lightly, Griffin says, it's very different from a sexual predator with rape and murder on his mind."

Now we are down to a tenth. How much lower can it go if we look harder at the situation?

RoyAugust 11, 2008 11:39 AM

The driver behind lockdowns, anywhere outside of prisons, it the thrill of committing unlawful false imprisonment on a mass scale, followed by the thrill of getting away with it scot free.

In an illegal lockdown, the only people who retain their lawful liberty at the ones with guns and badges.

bobAugust 11, 2008 11:49 AM

@Adam: It probably means there was no way of determining whether the amber alert helped or not.

So its more like: average 232 sunny days a year in Dallas therefore rain has no direct effect on the weather in Dallas and people should not waste money on sacrificing chickens to prevent rain.

AdamAugust 11, 2008 12:01 PM

@bob
Exactly,

But for the Amber Alerts there is a proven direct causal relationship between the alerts and at least 10% of the children being returned unharmed.

My vote is lowjack all of the little buggers...some sort of low power radio in a wrist band that cannot be removed...

Unfortunatly - All the solutions they sell now have way too short of range or pump out too much radiation.

CameraManAugust 11, 2008 12:11 PM

Seems to me the researcher is trying to prove a negative, and we all know how that works.

In the absence of conclusive evidence either way (and I frankly the quote "In fact, only a tenth of Amber Alerts, he determined, helped rescue a child from what Griffin saw as a dangerous situation" raises my eyebrow- whaddyamean, "only"?!?!?) I'm forced to do a rough, back of the envelope cost-benefit analysis and I can't see any reason to discontinue this practice. And I wonder at people who want to argue that 10 percent is not enough of a metric to matter, especially with the tiny cost. If it was overused, that would be another matter, but it just isn't.

SecureAppsAugust 11, 2008 12:14 PM

@Anonymous -- quoting from the report:
"Griffin saw as a dangerous situation"

Isn't that subjective? Phyiscal harm is not the only type. Mental harm can be more harmful.

There's two arguments which contradict each other:
1) They are overused/ignored (the "cried wolf" syndrome) - Even if that is the case, they cost little money and little resources. There will be those who pay attention even if the majority don't.

2) Denial of Service potential - Well, if case 1 holds true, the numbers won't be there. And if the caveat is there's still enough people who do listen to pay attention, those are the people who will care and you won't have that.

Again -- I asked earlier: Do you think wanted posters should be removed as well?

BernieAugust 11, 2008 12:15 PM

One of the best ways of saving lives is to not let people get driver's licenses until they are about 30. That would save a HECK of a lot more children than Amber Alerts.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 12:33 PM

@Cameraman

"If it was overused, that would be another matter, but it just isn't."

A 2005 Howard Scripps study is in more or less agreement with Griffen: more than a half of all Amber Alerts should not have been issued had Official Rules and Regulations been followed.

(Schneier on Security doesn't like URL's anymore, so google up '"amber alert" howard 2005'", with the double-quotes only.)

Seems like overuse to me, but I guess when it comes to wasting other people's time, who cares, eh?

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 12:43 PM

@SecureApps:

"Do you think wanted posters should be removed as well?"

If 50% of them were simply false, incomplete, situations taken out of context, and generally useless, yeah, I would. Wouldn't you?

CameramanAugust 11, 2008 12:49 PM

@ Anonymous 12:33

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. I'm actually arguing for the EXTENSION of the Amber Alert system, as it isn't really much of an annoyance and hardly costs anything, if it saves 10% of kidnapped children in harms way it seems a high payoff for a low cost.

Really, how much of your life is wasted by having an Amber Alert flashed on the bottom of your TV show or on those roadside illuminated signs that otherwise would read "Don't Drink and Drive"? Assuming it isn't overused (as I said before), AND assuming we don't treat it as a cure-all, I don't see the issue.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 12:54 PM

@Adam

"But for the Amber Alerts there is a proven direct causal relationship between the alerts and at least 10% of the children being returned unharmed."

Ironic: if the people issuing the alerts were to simply follow their own rules, then this 10% figure would skyrocket to 60-80% (my back-of-the-keyboard estimate).

And best of all, when an Amber Alert comes in, it would be converted from a current "What? Another one?" to a level of "Holy Jesus Cr*p! This might be worth paying attention to!", along with the potential for improving the recovery rate.

JasonAugust 11, 2008 1:09 PM

I am honestly shocked when an Amber Alert gets publicized that *isn't* for a Caucasian, female child, with blond hair.

It seems they are the only children who go missing.


AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 1:42 PM

@Anonymous at August 11, 2008 12:43 PM

"If 50% of them were simply false, incomplete, situations taken out of context, and generally useless, yeah, I would. Wouldn't you?"

There is no evidence of "false and taken out of context" in the study. It's the study's author who uses a subjective definition of non-dangerous situation.

There's a very large similarity between wanted posters and amber alerts. The only difference is one is to look for someone thought of to be a harmful indvidual versus an innocent child.

SuperparentAugust 11, 2008 1:51 PM

@Cameraman:
> I don't see the issue.

Well, saving children is certainly a good thing, and you won't find many people arguing against it. But sometimes analysis is not as simple as we'd like it to be.

Do you remember your childhood? Did you ever take off with some friends (or alone) and spend half a Saturday without adult supervision? Did you ever walk or bike alone to a destination more than a quarter mile away? Did you have adventures your parents never really learned about?

I did. I was more sheltered than anybody else I knew, but my parents still let me leave their sight for a while sometimes. They asked me who I'd be with and more or less what I planned to do, and told me when to be back home or some other meeting place.

My children do not have that same experience. They are 14, 12, and 10, and have never been out of the sight, literally, of a supervising adult for more than a minute or two unless they were at home.

The good news is they haven't been kidnapped (but then again, neither was I or anyone else I knew). The news yet to come is how my kids will handle independence (if they ever get it).

CurmudgeonAugust 11, 2008 1:51 PM

What pisses me off is the use of NOAA weather radio alerts for "Amber Alerts". They have polluted what should be a high-priority information channel for general public emergencies, which a child-custody case is most certainly not.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 2:13 PM

@ mouse, jonny and all you other nay sayers: This isn't about the airports. It's about childrens' lives. You don't like amber alerts? Come up with better ideas, instead of just complaining...

CameramanAugust 11, 2008 2:28 PM

@ SuperParent:

Did I ever get away from my parents' watchful eyes? Sure, but lots of the time I would get beat up (when I was lucky) or mugged at knifepoint (when I was slightly unlucky). I shudder to think about what would have happened if I had been REALLY unlucky. I grew up on the edges of the kind of bad neighborhood portrayed in the oeuvre of Mr. Spike Lee. So please excuse me for being a bit paranoid.

Did I learn independance? Who knows if you can even judge that. I now live in the kind of place with more pine trees than people, and I still don't know if I'll let him out of my sight.

I see no compelling reason to denigrate the Amber Alerts, not even after reading the report.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 2:50 PM

@anon 01:42PM

"There is no evidence of "false and taken out of context" in the study."

Did you read the Scripps study? I'd URL it, but it won't appear here. Family abductions are no picnic, but statistics show they simply are not anywhere near as dangerous as non-family abductions. As Curmudgeon says: a child custody flare-up is not a public emergency.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 2:53 PM

"You don't like amber alerts? Come up with better ideas, instead of just complaining..."

I don't like _USELESS_ Amber Alerts. You got a problem with that? Then stop publishing them.

CameramanAugust 11, 2008 3:09 PM

"...a child custody flare-up is not a public emergency."

Then define "emergency". A parent is willing to use force to defy a court order and is willing to use a child as a pawn to get revenge on his or her ex-spouse. Is this not a dangerous and unpredictable individual? Heaven forbid the child defies the parent in some way; who knows how they'll react.

Yes, yes, courts are not infallible, what if the parent with customdy is genuinely unfit, blah blah blah. A parent who will kidnap a child to prove a point puts the child at risk.

And the point of the Amber Alert isn't "Shoot on site, wanted dead or alive but preferably dead", it's "call the police and let them handle it.

SumDumGuyAugust 11, 2008 3:13 PM

It seems like judging the effectiveness of amber alerts would be relatively easy. Just compare the rates of death and physical harm in kidnapping cases before and after the system was implemented.

IIRC, the number of children who are either killed or otherwise never returned is roughly 100 per year and that number has not significantly changed over the last couple of decades.

WombatAugust 11, 2008 3:15 PM

@Superparent,

I'm not sure if your posting is sarcastic or not. If your kids are 14, 12, and 10 and they haven't been without supervision, then that's your issue.

Not society's issue, not the Amber Alert system's issue. Yours.

You seem to recognize the problems that can be caused by NOT letting your kids out of your sight... so do something about it and send them out on adventures... let them go to friends houses alone, let them ride their bikes, walk in the woods, even go to the MALL alone.

Just say no to the illusion that we can protect our kids from everything.

I love this exchange from "Finding Nemo"

Marlin: I promised I'd never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That's a funny thing to promise.
Marlin: What?
Dory: Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

Words to parent by, IMP

JasonAugust 11, 2008 3:37 PM

Not one person has said, "Think of the children!"

Wow.

Also, when I was a kid, as long as my parents had a vague idea of where I would be and who I would be with, I could be out all day (home by dark though).

We rode bikes down the rail road tracks to the river, played in lumber yards after they were closed, when down storm drains, buried ourselves in the 1-story high piles of leaves outside the cemetery, and generally had lots of fun.

I went to the store by myself, rode my bike to school a few miles away by myself (even when I had to ride on the sidewalk along a fairly busy 4-lane road).

My parents trusted me to make intelligent and slightly paranoid decisions.

Anything else that happened outside of my control, was just that: outside of my control.

I didn't go down dark alleys, I didn't approach strangers, I avoided other kids I didn't know, and I almost always traveled in a group.

I know how to handle personal responsibility and I grew up knowing my parents trusted me.

I know we live in a growing nanny state and it sickens me. Do we really want a generate incapable of making their own choices in the real world? Or will the "real world" be government-dictated by the time they are adults?

I'm all for protecting kids. The Amber Alert system has been abused because they aren't following their own guidelines.

I don't want to be the person telling a parent that their situation doesn't meet the requirements for an Amber Alert, but somebody has to.

CameramanAugust 11, 2008 3:39 PM

Speaking as a parent: it isn't my job to make sure my son has "fun". It's my job to see that he survives to his 18th birthday, reasonably healthy, and with some kind of job prospects. Anything else, as far as I'm concerned, is gravy.

Nomen PublicusAugust 11, 2008 3:39 PM

I think it was in an episode of CSI:Miami that one of the characters pointed out that if the kidnapper intended to kill the child eventually, an Amber Alert may well encourage them to do so immediately.

AdrianAugust 11, 2008 3:59 PM

"it isn't my job to make sure my son has 'fun'"

Nobody suggested otherwise. The point is that paranoia has a cost, which may very well be too great.

"It's my job to see that he survives to his 18th birthday, reasonably healthy ..."

So, when he turns 18 he magically becomes able to survive entirely on his own?

CameramanAugust 11, 2008 4:01 PM

@ Jason:

I'm glad you grew up in the kind of neighborhood where you could behave like that and survive to adulthood intact. Kudos. You're probably a happier person than I am.

As a child, I was taught "if you talk to strangers, they are going to stab you so they can steal what they can for crack money" and guess what? I was mugged at knifepoint a few times till I took to carrying a knife myself when i was 12. I don't want my son to grow up in a nanny state, but I do want my son to know that the world is a damn scary place and paranoia is healthy.

SuperparentAugust 11, 2008 5:02 PM

@Wombat, My post was not sarcastic, but my "Name" was.

> Not society's issue, not the Amber Alert system's issue. Yours.

Agreed.

But what my wife and I are doing in my family is happening in many other families, too. Every family I know, actually. My family is a microcosm that I think is fairly representative of our larger society.

And the larger society is frightened, scared of improbable things like strangers whisking off our kids, while we relegate to the back of our minds more prevalent dangers like gang violence, obesity and learned helplessness.

Amber's Law is part of a broad and complex picture. The law itself is apparently not financially costly, and it appears to make a positive difference once in a while. That positive difference is a wonderful thing.

No one wants to see children hurt, and we all applaud any tragedy prevented.

But Risk Management is about understanding the odds, and it's unwise to focus on rare horrific tragedies if it leads us to insufficiently address more common, preventable dangers.

Like childhood diabetes. From NDEP:
(http://ndep.nih.gov/diabetes/youth/youth_FS.htm#Statistics)
"Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in school-aged children. According to the National Diabetes Fact Sheet, about 186,300 young people in the US under age 20 had diabetes in 2007. This represents 0.2% of all people in this age group."

"an estimated 16-17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years had a BMI greater than or equal to 95th percentile of the age- and sex-specific BMI— about double the number of two decades ago."

Here are some numbers for kidnapping, from the NIBRS (via Center for Missing and Exploited Children):
"Kidnaping makes up less than 2 percent of all violent crimes against juveniles reported to police."

According to the Dept of Justice (via Center for Missing and Exploited Children) :
http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/documents/...

During the study year, there were an estimated 115 stereotypical kidnappings, defined as abductions perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance and involving a child who was transported 50 or more miles, detained overnight, held for ransom or with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.

So Amber's Law is aimed at a problem that accounts for less than 2% of juvenile violence, and could potentially influence a positive effect for 115 "stereotypical" kidnappings.

What are we doing for the other 98% of juvenile violence - for kids like Cameraman who are regularly bullied and victimized in violence riddled barrios?

Why have we doubled the population of morbidly obese children in the last 20 years?

Directing massive resources at the most terrifying 2% of childhood violence is not a bad thing.

But doing the same for the other 98% might be even better.

Preventing 200,000 cases of pediatric diabetics might be even better.

Letting children fend for themselves sometimes might be something better.

SuperparentAugust 11, 2008 5:30 PM

@Cameraman
"it isn't my job to make sure my son has 'fun'. It's my job to see that he survives to his 18th birthday..."

To what end?

Did you procreate just to add another worker to the global economy?

CameramanAugust 11, 2008 5:42 PM

@ Superparent:

I didn't say that he can't have fun. I didn't even say that he shouldn't have fun. I am saying that other things, like his safety for example, take priority over fun.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 7:26 PM

@Cameraman: "A parent is willing to use force to defy a court order and is willing to use a child as a pawn to get revenge on his or her ex-spouse. Is this not a dangerous and unpredictable individual?"

Regardless of what you may think, the statistics say that only 4% of family abductions have further charges regarding physical abuse.

This doesn't sound especially "dangerous" to me. More significantly: is it any different from the baseline (ie, non-abduction) abuse statistics? Difficult to tell: if we accept a "1 in 8" statistic, then being abducted makes kids safer. That is probably not true, but not completely ridiculous either: why would a parent kidnap their kid and then abuse them? (Consider variations on Nomen Publicus' statement). But that 1-in-8 is probably an integration over the life of the child. Other sources say "1 in 50 infants" are subject to physical abuse or neglect of some kind. All of these numbers may be related by a simple binomial distribution.

(I'd like to give references that back up this stuff, but this blog's comment policy doesn't like URLs anymore.)

Bruce SchneierAugust 11, 2008 7:26 PM

"One saved child is enough of a metric to justify the existence of Amber Alert. I'm curious to hear points to the contrary."

That's easy. Security trade-offs are costs vs benefits. Saving the life of one child is a benefit, but without knowing the costs you can't justify the security measure.

Think about it this way. You have -- and I'm making this number up -- $10M a year with which to save children. Will you invest im Amber alerts or will you give infant car seats to poor families? Far more children are killed each year in car crashes than in abductions.

"If just one life is saved, then X is worth it" is completely nonsensical.

MatthewAugust 11, 2008 8:07 PM

I agree with that last guy, who asks "what is the cost". Politically, there's no comparison though - because the costs are probably borne by civic-minded private enterprises who'd happy to be seen to be doing the right thing, whereas they're probably less keen to pay a comparable tax that would buy child restraints for poor people.

To lighten the tone a bit, here's one of my favorite stories from the Pravda web site (always a good source for vaguely jingoistic nonsense:

"Psychic security department protects Russian presidents from external psychological influence"

http://english.pravda.ru/main/18/90/362/...

This was posted after this group was (allegedly) disbanded, but it claims that the group successfully protected russian leaders against all psychic attacks from the west. I'm not so sure, though - when it comes to yeltsin, I think they've got some explaining to do.

Clive RobinsonAugust 11, 2008 10:41 PM

@ Bruce,

This is off topic but IMPORTANT,

Sun's OpenID has a weak certificate and is broken.

Richard Clayton over at Cambridge Labs,

http://www.lightbluetouchpaper.org

Details what is wrong and how it can be exploited.

Simply he and a friend from Google have been investigating the effects of Debian's broken random number generator.

Due to a software change over a year and a half ago the generator was broken and it only generated 2^15 different numbers.

Apparently something like 1.5% of server keys on the Internet that they have checked have been generated with these weak random numbers. Unfortunatly for Sun their OpenID service is one of them.

I know that broken random number generators are a bit old news but it is the effects of this year and a half old software mistake that are now comming criticaly to the surface.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2008 11:08 PM

Does parenthood make people completely paranoid and irrational?

Several of the above posts seem to indicate this, Cameraman's comment about his son "surviving until 18" being the clearest.

200 years ago, children tended to be at risk of not surviving to adulthood. Today, outside of some war-torn regions of the world, this is simply not true.

Kidnappings are extremely rare. Amber alerts serve to skew peoples' perceptions of how common it is, and further feed the fears of already overprotective parents.

I don't know how much Amber alerts have to do with it, but the US seems to lead the world by far in being hysterical about kidnappings and vastly overprotective of children. Yet kidnappings are neither more common or less common than in countries where children are routinely trusted to be without adult supervision.

Taking public transportation to school alone from age 8 up is pretty much the norm for many places, yet the vast majority of children do actually survive.

neillAugust 12, 2008 1:36 AM

after being with a driver that got distracted by looking at an alert sign on the freeway i may ask if statistics exist analyzing accidents caused by them?

GweihirAugust 12, 2008 3:44 AM

One saved child is enough of a metric to justify the existence of Amber Alert. I'm curious to hear points to the contrary.

Simeple: The cost-benefit ratio is too bad.

Just to give an obvious example for your fallacy: Occasionally a child gets run over by a car. Abolishing cars would save far more than one child and would by your reasoning be justified.

bobAugust 12, 2008 7:10 AM

Protecting your children is good. However preventing them from growing is bad. Too many kids nowadays are so insulated from emotional hurt that they develop no tools for dealing with it.

Then when they reach the age where it is no longer feasible to prevent them from ever having challenges (ie high school, college, work) and then they come into conflict with someone else just like themselves, one of them has to lose. And having never experienced hurt, they have no sense of scale, think the world has ended and wind up shooting up the school or workplace to deal with it.

CurmudgeonAugust 12, 2008 11:07 AM

@Anonymous (please post your name): I wouldn't say we're "overprotective" of children. I think that's bunk. If it were really "all about the children", we wouldn't have low-bidder companies hauling our toddlers around in busses driven by minimum wage flunkies, and be unable to attract and keep quality teachers. Seems many adults would rather spend the money on themselves. Seems a bit hypocritical, I think.

JimFiveAugust 12, 2008 1:45 PM

@Cameraman
No, your job is to teach your children to grow into smart, rational, and good people. Keeping them safe is part of that, but not all of it. Also, your comments seem to make the liberty vs. freedom quote apropos.

@Anonymous
>Does parenthood make people completely paranoid and irrational?

Not all of us, but there are other issues as well. If I let my daughter go out for a bike ride and something happens to her (or she commits a crime) there will be a huge outcry of "Where were her parents?!? How could they let this happen!??!" In fact, it is entirely possible to be prosecuted for not conforming your parenting to your neighborhood norms, especially if the "random bad thing" happens to your child.
--
JimFive

ModeratorAugust 12, 2008 5:39 PM

@Anonymous:
"(I'd like to give references that back up this stuff, but this blog's comment policy doesn't like URLs anymore.)"

Nothing has changed about how URLs are handled. Put them in your comment text and they will automatically be linked. You can see several examples in this thread.

And please choose a name, as it says on the comment form.

firebeeAugust 13, 2008 11:03 PM

>If I let my daughter go out for a bike ride and something happens to her (or she commits a crime) there will be a huge outcry of "Where were her parents?!? How could they let this happen!??!"

This is true, but it's apt to be the case regardless of your actions if something bad happens. Bad + child has a way of scaring the brains out of people, and a good way of displacing the resulting anxiety is to find or invent a detail in the scenario or its aftermath to hang the parents with. If you make sure to be making at least one minor parenting mistake at all times, you won't notably increase the risk to your daughter. But if lightning does, literally or figuratively, strike, you'll be doing the the community a great service by both making the blame-finding process more efficient and avoiding advancing the line of what is considered a hideous and reckless act on the part of parents.

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