Four Ma. Amber Alerts In Four Weeks–Excessive?

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Four Amber alerts from Massachusetts State Police over the past four weeks is provoking concern among some media veterans and criminal justice specialists who worry the public could become desensitized to the news flashes, says the Boston Globe. Broadcasters, police, and specialists agree that the system has helped ensure the safe return of eight children since media and law enforcement joined forces in 2002 to quickly spread information about possible child abductions. Some wonder whether the alerts have become so frequent that the listening public may begin to tune them out. “I’m not really concerned about busting into programming, I’m concerned about the audience saying, ‘What’s this?’ and then moving on,” said Greg Cassidy of Boch Broadcasting, which runs four Cape Cod radio stations. “We have to be selective, as with everything in life, otherwise it’s just going to go in one ear and out the other.” Vincent Manzi, general manager of WLVI-TV, said, “It is working the way we initially thought and we envisioned it.” But he added: “The only concern is that the public will become numb if it is overused.”

Last weekend, officials issued an alert for a 16-year-old girl who disappeared after her baby’s father allegedly had smashed her door and window with a hatchet. Alerts also have been issued for a 19-day-old infant whose father allegedly snatched the boy from his mother on her way to court for a restraining order, for two teenagers allegedly abducted from an apartment building, and for a 17-year-old girl, allegedly kidnapped in retaliation for a botched drug deal. The infant and all of the missing teens were found. Before July, only one alert had been issued in Massachusetts. “Ideally, Amber alert is for innocent children abducted by a stranger,” said criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University, “but it tends to be used in custody and drug disputes, which is not quite what it was initially meant for.”

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