The viability of a runaway alert system and the current recovery of runaway practices was the topic of a legislative study Tuesday.
The study was requested by state Rep. Joe Dorman, who ran legislation during the 2013 legislative session to create a runaway alert system similar to the Amber Alert. House Bill 2227 is currently awaiting a committee hearing in the Oklahoma Senate.
“We anticipate having law enforcement officials and national experts participating in the study and we hope to have a few Oklahoma families who have dealt with the system to give us their perspective,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs.
A search of missing children in Oklahoma in a one-year period on the National Center for Missing or Exploited Children website showed 20 open cases. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 800,000 children are annually reported missing nationwide with more than 200,000 of those proven to be abductions by a family member and more than 58,000 abductions by a person with no relation to the child.
“Runaway cases are handled a bit differently in Oklahoma than cases in which the child abducted,” Dorman said. “A common misperception is that the Amber Alert system is for all missing children, but it is actually only issued for abductions. One of the problems we face in reacting to runaway cases is the larger number of runaway reports that occur in the state.”
To make sure that the alert system doesn’t overly burden law enforcement, Dorman wants to make his runaway alert system voluntary and set up a filter so that officers can receive reports only for runaways in their local zip code or zip codes in which they register.
The alert system would come at an estimated one-time price tag of approximately $75,000, according to information provided to Dorman by the Department of Public Safety. Language is included in the proposed law to allow private donations to assist with this cost. Dorman has offered to help raise the funds privately to cover this effort.
Law enforcement cannot currently pick up runaways unless they are breaking a law, Dorman said. Along with the alert system, he wants to authorize law enforcement to take reported runaways into custody and require an exit interview with all runaways taken into custody to verify the reason for leaving the home is not abuse or neglect.