Police to issue MAILE Alerts
By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
Honolulu police and the city have tentatively set Dec. 20 as the kickoff date for their own version of the "Amber Alert" program designed to warn the public in the event of a possible child abduction.
Police, city and state officials, along with TV and radio broadcasters and child safety experts, met yesterday to put the finishing touches on the upcoming program.
The MAILE Alert short for Minor Abducted In Life-Threatening Emergency would allow police to provide a description of the missing child and suspected abductor on the radio and TV airwaves. State highway message signs would also alert drivers to listen to their radios.
The system would be dedicated to 6-year-old Maile Gilbert, who was abducted from a Kailua party in 1985 and was found murdered shortly after.
"I'm really thankful that the police and others are getting this going, knowing there is a system in place in case something happens," said Carol Hee, coordinator of the Missing Child Center-Hawai'i, who attended yesterday's meeting and hopes the system will be running during the schools' Christmas vacation. "Just to have this up will increase public awareness about the issue and have parents talking to their kids about it."
Officials did not say how often the system would be activated, but police will be responsible for activating the system and is setting up stringent criteria on when to use it. The department is installing a hotline that will allow the public to call in possible child abductions.
After the call, police will investigate whether the child's life is in danger and decide whether to activate the system. The plan would not be activated for runaway or custodial interference cases unless police determine that a child is in immediate danger of serious injury or death.
Statistics show that 74 percent of children murdered by nonfamily members are killed in the first three hours of the kidnapping, according to U. S. Justice Department officials.
The Amber Alert early warning system was created in Texas in 1996 after a 9-year-old girl was kidnapped and murdered. Other states have since adopted similar programs since statistics show there is usually a two-hour delay in reporting abductions, federal officials said.
City Information Technology director Courtney Harrington yesterday said a maximum of two minutes airtime on radio and television would be allowed on the Emergency Alert System.
"Similar systems used on the Mainland have been pretty successful," said Harrington, chairman of a statewide committee that determines policies for the Emergency Alert System. "If it saves one child, it's worth it."
Hee yesterday said she hoped the O'ahu program "will get the other islands to set up a similar system."
Reach Scott Ishikawa at 535-2429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.