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AMBER alerts against fathers

Yesterday, South Carolina issued an AMBER alert for two-year-old Geomari Young after his father, Geonaldo R. Young, alleged beat Geomari’s mother (Geonaldo’s ex-girlfriend) and “kidnapped” him. Under South Carolina law, one cannot kidnap one’s own child, as the kidnapping statute, S.C Code Ann. § 16-3-910, does not apply “when a minor is seized or taken by his parent.”

AMBER – America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response – was created in 1996 as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas and then brutally murdered. After this heinous crime, Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. One of the criteria for AMBER alerts is “[t]he law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

I haven’t kept track but anecdotally it seems like a lot of AMBER alerts are issued when a family member takes the child.  It is my recollection that, after the facts fully come to light, there is sometimes good reason for the family member to be taking the child from the mother.  Even when there isn’t, it may be bad policy to issue AMBER alerts for family member abductions.

AMBER alerts serve a useful purpose: putting the general public on notice that a child has been abducted and seeking public assistance in locating and obtaining the safe return of the child.  However, the circumstances that AMBER alerts are supposed to remedy–a child abducted by a stranger with nefarious intent–rarely apply when it is a family member doing the abducting.  While Mr. Young’s domestic violence towards Geomari’s mother may be a situation in which Geomari might have been “in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death,” I have my doubts.

There’s a reason South Carolina law doesn’t treat parent abduction as “kidnapping.”  If law enforcement is considering yesterday’s capture to be a successful use of AMBER alerts, I would question both the statistics regarding AMBER alerts efficacy and the use of AMBER alerts in general.  Asking the public to become involved in parents’ domestic disputes seems to be questionable policy: using AMBER alerts for domestic disputes will likely reduce the vigilance that law enforcement hopes the general public pays to these alerts.

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