February 24, 2015

Runaway Alert bill proposed

2-24-2015 Oklahoma:

LAWTON, Okla._A proposed bill that would create an alert system for missing or runaway juveniles is being met with mixed reviews.

The proposed ‘JaRay Wilson Runaway Child Alert System Act' is named after a Weatherford teen whose body was found more than one year after she went missing in 2012. JaRay's body was discovered in a field in 2013. Three teens have since been charged in connection to her murder.

The author hopes the bill will help encourage communities to be on the lookout for reported missing juveniles along with law enforcement.

Officials say that in the state of Oklahoma, approximately 1,000 children run away from home each month. And here in Lawton, there is about 30 per month. If all of these were reported, citizens could be getting as many as one runaway alert per day. They also say that while there are positive aspects of the bill, it does have its drawbacks.

Captain Craig Akard of the Lawton Police Department says that while it may seem like a there's a large number in Lawton, there are some children who run away multiple times a year, and that reporting all these runaway cases could take attention away should an actual Amber Alert be issued.

"Come up three months from now, they're used to seeing these runaways and all of a sudden we actually have an Amber Alert where a child is abducted or something and it may not have that impact that it would if they don't hear anything and all of a sudden they get this blast on the TV screen," said Capt. Akard.

Currently, under the Adam Walsh Act, when a runaway or missing juvenile report is filed, officials must enter their information within two hours. Gene Thaxton of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety says that he believes this system is effective enough, but does believe that some aspects of the bill could be beneficial to investigating these cases.

"The bill does provide for law enforcement to have the capability to detain a child to determine facts of why he's run away, were conditions involved, was there drug abuse involved, what are the conditions going on that caused you to run away, etc. And it would also give also the capability for the officer to detain the individual until the guardian or parent comes and gets them," explained Thaxton.

Much like Amber Alerts, in order to qualify for a runaway or missing alert, cases must meet specific criteria that indicates there is a credible threat to the safety and health of the child as determined by the law enforcement agency. Captain Akard says that these qualifying factors can lead to problems.

"It would be the same way with runaway children. It all depends on the criteria and we would have to go by that, but I guarantee you if we start doing it and we keep doing it for all these other runaways and we don't do it for this runaway, the parents are going to be upset," said Capt. Akard.

There have been reports that police officers in the state plan to lobby against the bill, but as for right now the bill has yet to pass the committee. ..Source.. by Lauren Halvorson

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