Utah lawmaker to review Amber Alert policies
SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker is questioning state protocol for sending out Amber Alerts after police said four girls were abducted by their non-custodial mother over the weekend.
Sen. Todd Weiler, (R-Woods Cross), said he plans to take the issue up with his legislative colleagues as he gets ready for the next session.
Police caught the mother with her four daughters in San Diego Sunday, hours after sounding the alarm and sending an Amber Alert notification to millions of cell phones in Utah and California.
According to South Jordan police, Allison Brimhall was not supposed to see her daughters without supervision, and certainly wasn’t supposed to take them from Utah to California.
Joe Dougherty, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said they “absolutely saved the lives of four children,” based on some of the internal discussion and information he learned.
But Weiler said he sensed a great deal of frustration from people.
“It’s a very different situation if a stranger in a van grabs a 9-year-old girl and drives off, than a mother who has been to court and lost, maybe, who says, ‘I’m taking the kids,’” he explained.
He expressed concern that many Amber Alerts involve close family members and custodial issues, and he worried people will ignore or turn off notifications for those kinds of situations.
“I’m not defending what she did. What she did was wrong, okay?” he clarified. “But did it rise to the level of making three million phones go off? I’m not convinced it was appropriate.”
A Salt Lake County man believes the Amber Alert helped find and rescue his 6-year-old son last year after the boy was taken by his non-custodial mother in September.
“It’s the worst nightmare you can imagine. [There was a] true potential that we would never see him again,” Tim Butler said.
The boy was found seven days later, two states away, in Oregon.
Butler believes it was all thanks to the Amber Alert.
“Yes, I do think that we should have received the alert,” he said. “I always think that it’s important to give the benefit of the doubt.”
But Butler also agrees maybe this is something lawmakers should debate. But for him, he believes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“I would rather err on the side of side of caution. And I feel like it’s, it’s really not that much of an inconvenience,” he said.
The Utah senator wants to take a hard look at the state’s policies and plans to bring this up with other lawmakers, as well as the community, for any possible tweaks.
He said this is something he’s been stewing on for several years.
“Do we have policy right?” he asked. “Is the policy perfect? Could it be better?”
According to DPS, Amber Alerts must check four boxes:
- The belief a child has been abducted
- The child is under 17
- A reasonable belief their life or safety is in danger
- Information is available that can lead to the safe recovery of a child
Dougherty said they’re confident all protocols and criteria were met for the Amber Alert last weekend. While most Amber Alerts issued in the state over the last couple of years have not been a case of “stranger danger,” but rather biological family members, Dougherty pointed out that it doesn’t necessarily make the situation any less serious.
“We hope that everyone realizes the police have a reasonable idea that the child is in danger, and it really doesn’t matter who the person was who took the child,” he said.
That said, Dougherty said they’ll have conversations over the next couple of weeks and they’re willing to look at when it’s appropriate to send those cell phone alerts.
“The timing of that is something that we are willing to have conversations about, to see if our current policy should stay in place,” he said. “Or maybe there is some other alternative time that we could issue the cell phone alerts to everybody.”
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