SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah lawmaker questioned state protocol for sending out Amber Alerts after police said four girls were abducted by their non-custodial mother over the weekend.
Senator Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross) planned to take the issue up with his legislative colleagues as he gets ready for the next session.
Police caught the mother with her four daughters in San Diego Sunday, hours after sounding the alarm and sending an Amber Alert notification to millions of cell phones in Utah and California.
According to South Jordan Police, Allison Brimhall was not supposed to see her daughters without supervision and certainly wasn’t supposed to take them from Utah to California.
Joe Dougherty, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said they “absolutely saved the lives of four children,” based on some of the internal discussion and information he learned.
But Senator Weiler said he sensed a great deal of frustration from people.
“It’s a very different situation if a stranger in a van grabs a nine-year-old girl and drives off than a mother who has been to court and lost, maybe, who says, ‘I’m taking the kids,’” he explained.
He expressed concern that many Amber Alerts involve close family members and custodial issues, and he worried people will ignore or turn off notifications for those kinds of situations.
“I’m not defending what she did. What she did was wrong, okay?” He clarified. “But did it rise to the level of making three million phones go off? I’m not convinced it was appropriate.”
Senator Weiler wants to take a hard look at the policies and plans to bring this up with other lawmakers as well as the community for any possible tweaks.
He said this is something he’s been stewing on for several years.
“Do we have policy right?” he asked. “Is the policy perfect, could it be better?”
According to DPS, Amber Alerts must check four boxes:
The belief a child has been abducted
The child is under 17
A reasonable belief their life or safety is in danger
Information is available that can lead to the safe recovery of a child
Dougherty said they’re confident all protocols and criteria were met for the Amber Alert last weekend. While most Amber Alerts issued in the state over the last couple of years have not been a case of “stranger danger,” but rather biological family members, Dougherty pointed out that it doesn’t necessarily make the situation any less serious.
“We hope that everyone realizes the police have a reasonable idea that the child is in danger, and it really doesn’t matter who the person was who took the child,” he said.
That said, Dougherty said they’ll have conversations over the next couple of weeks and they’re willing to look at when it’s appropriate to send those cell phone alerts.
“The timing of that is something that we are willing to have conversations about, to see if our current policy should stay in place,” he said. “Or maybe there is some other alternative time that we could issue the cell phone alerts to everybody.”