The Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Concerned that overuse of the state's new Amber
Alert system will desensitize the public and make it a less valuable
tool in child abduction cases, some law enforcement officials have
grown increasingly wary about determining when an advisory should be
The system, signed into law last December, uses electronic
billboards, television bulletins and radio broadcasts to immediately
disseminate details about an abduction, such as the make and model of
the getaway car or a description of the child. It has been activated
three times, and there have been glitches and other problems in each
The first alert was called off minutes after it was posted when the
child, a 10-year-old Trenton boy, was found walking near his home.
Meanwhile, the alert was mistakenly broadcast on cable television
stations using the phrase "civil alert,'' alarming some viewers who
thought the nation was under terrorist attack.
Most recently, Pennsauken police issued an advisory about an abducted
2-year-old child last month, then canceled it an hour later when they
realized the report was a hoax.
While noting that the system remains a work in progress, authorities
admit that overuse could dampen the public's interest in the program.
Therefore, when a local police department wants to issue an alert, it
must first contact the state police' missing persons unit to ensure
that such an advisory is warranted.
"We don't want it to be Chicken Little syndrome, where the sky is
always falling,'' state police Sgt. Kevin Rehmann told The Record of
Bergen County for Monday's editions.
Those sentiments are echoed by many police officials and analysts,
such as George Kelling, a professor of criminal justice at Rutgers
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"We're so used to car alarms going off inappropriately, we don't pay
attention and we find them irritating,'' Kelling said. "The false
(alert) is the danger, though. It's like the police officer who goes
casually to a burglar alarm that has gone off every night and then