Sunday, July 20, 2008

Urgency and drama

Amber Alert systems give us the illusion that we're doing something, anything, but they're rarely helpful in the hard cases that inspired their creation. But what's the cost for that rare success?

"It doesn't cost anybody anything," argues Tyler Cox, operations manager for radio station WBAP, chairman of the Dallas/Fort Worth Amber Plan Task Force, and one of the people who helped create the original Amber Alert. "There's no expense to operating an Amber Alert system if you're doing it the right way."
Timothy Griffin, who studied the cases, identifies two costs:
Critics, however, measure the price of the program not in money but in broader social costs, in anxiety, panic, and misdirected public energy.


"When a child dies, in the vast majority of cases it's going to be a kid you've never heard of in a part of town you've never gone," he says. "Savage beatings, drug abuse, kids not being fed, that type of crime happens far more often than the abduction and murder of little girls."
Maybe it's asking a lot, given how balky and fearful our culture has become, but couldn't we have both the very inexpensive Amber Alerts and solutions to more endemic problems if we would simply learn not to be so damn hysterical?

And maybe the Globe could start by not trumping up illustrations of empty maryjanes and hair bows left by fictive kidnappers.

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