Local AMBER Alert system activated
March 09, 2003

Greg Dagnan, pictured left, director of the Children's Center of Southwest Missouri, and Lt. Carl Francis, pictured right, of the Joplin Police Department are credited with developing the Child Abduction Alert System of the Four States.

The four states' version of AMBER Alert is now active. Dubbed Child Abduction Alert System (CAAS)of the Four States, the program is the brainchild of Greg Dagnan of the Children's Center of Southwest Missouri and Lt. Carl Francis of the Joplin Police Department. They created CAAS with the input of many law enforcement agencies, children's service agencies, media outlets, the Missouri Department of Transportation and community groups.

Joplin Globe staffers, John Cruzan, online manager, left, and Ryan Hines, assistant online manager, right, were on hand to answer questions regarding the website that the Globe contributed to the CAAS program.

Somewhat modeled after the national program, CAAS will be a tool used by law enforcement agencies to involve the media and consequently the public in aiding them in locating missing children that have been abducted. In addition to passing the notice of an abduction via the usual law enforcement channel, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the four-state law enforcement officers now will have the opportunity to provide information to a website set up by the Joplin Globe newspaper. The information on the website will then be relayed to the public directly or via radio and TV announcements, and the satellite communication network used by the trucking industry. THE JOPLIN INDEPENDENT has a CAAS icon provided by the Globe, that when an alert is actually in progress, would expand to a banner announcing the alert.

To a group assembled in a conference room at the Joplin Globe on March 6, Carthage Chief of Police, Dennis Veach, details problems that surfaced when the Child Abduction Alert System was tested. His department was volunteered to initiate the test.

The CAAS system would be activated at the discretion of the law enforcement agency involved when it has ascertained that a child under the age of 18 has been kidnapped somewhere within the area by someone other than a parent, or if kidnapped by a parent, is believed to be in serious danger. The alert would include persons over the age of 18 only after the agreement of three members of the Tri-State Major case squad.

Persons reporting the abduction of a child or children are asked to contact their local law enforcement agency as quickly as possible. The first few hours after the abduction are crucial to the safety of those involved. It is unfortunate that Department of Justice statistics indicate that 75 percent of abducted children are murdered within the first three hours after abduction. CAAS is designed to initiate a full-scale alert within 10 minutes of receiving law enforcement activation.

Gov. Bob Holden in October 2002 issued an executive order launching Alert Missouri, a statewide child abduction alert program. Alert Missouri was set up to use the resources of five state agencies, including the Missouri Department of Public Safety, to work in coordination with the Missouri Broadcasters Association and the local law enforcement in implementing a system similar to existing programs such as those in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield. Like CAAS, it also incorporates communications with neighboring states in an effort to recover children whose abductors flee across state lines.

In early 2003 there was democratic opposition to the official creation of a statewide AMBER Alert Program. Rep. Rachel Bringer from Palmyra opposed the program which she said would "unnecessarily duplicate" the executive order system. However, Rep. Vicki Schneider, a republican from O'Fallon who was abducted as a child, proposed a bill that would allow Missouri to get federal money while generating publicity for an alert system and possibly discouraging would be kidnappers.

The programs are all based upon the AMBER Alert system, that was first instituted in 1996 as a result of the kidnapping and consequent murder of Amber Hagerman, a 9-year old Arlington, Texas resident.

At the beginning of the year, there were 83 AMBER Plans: 34 local, 15 regional and 34 statewide. Congress also has been considering legislation to establish a nation-wide AMBER Alert system.

For description of first CAAS system activation on April 2, 2003, click here.

For more information about legislation to establish a national AMBER Alert system, click here.

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