NEW YORK – As the famously successful Amber Alert system enters the national lexicon, more and more states are scrambling to put in place similar programs designed to save the lives of abducted children.
Some might be surprised to know that California, where the alerts have been most widely publicized, has yet to institute the Amber system statewide. But 14 other states already have -- Arkansas, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah.
A number of counties in other states also use the system, and about 41 modified versions in all have been adopted at local, regional and statewide levels.
And the recent successes of the system are giving states more reason to adopt them.
In California, where the alert is used in a few regions, a bill is on its way to being passed that makes the system statewide.
Meanwhile, New Jersey state police are scrambling to get their statewide system up and running "as soon as possible," said Chuck Davis, spokesman for state Attorney General David Samson.
"He [Samson] stated earlier he supports this law 100 percent and if it saves the life of one child, it’s worth it," Davis said.
The Massachusetts State Police and other emergency officials are hoping to soon get a commitment from broadcasters to participate in a system they hope to launch in October. Gov. Jane Swift may issue an order mandating the system, but she cannot force the broadcasters to participate.
New England is also working on a regional Amber Alert system, said Massachusetts State Police spokesman Capt. Robert Bird. New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont are also working on their own systems.
"If you abduct a child in Massachusetts, you can be out of the state in a matter of minutes," Bird said.
And after witnessing California’s and Texas' success, Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on Aug. 6 announced a plan to develop a statewide system there. Kentucky State Police also are working with broadcasters to set up a system similar to California’s by the end of the year.
California and other states have called Utah for tips on how to set up their systems. Meanwhile, Utah is hoping to incorporate the road signs used by California to help track down the vehicle driven by the man who kidnapped two teenagers there, said Paul Murphy, spokesman for Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
"We’re hoping that since California learned from us, we can learn from California," Murphy said.
Others want the federal government to make the system mandatory.
When Congress returns from its August recess, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will introduce a bill to provide federal grants to states for their communications networks who help out with the now-voluntary system.
"When a child is abducted, the entire community grieves with the family," Hutchison said in a statement. "Through a nationwide Amber Alert program, more people can play a key role in making that child’s safe recovery a greater possibility."
Kansas Attorney General Carla Stovall in March wrote to President Bush asking for his support of a national Amber plan. Kansas plans to have its statewide system up and running by mid-October.
"With concentrated cooperation, we can save lives and provide a more secure America for our children and their families," Stovall wrote.
Bush will hold a White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children on Sept. 24. Stovall believes "that’s kind of a response to the amber alert plan" request," said a spokeswoman.
But some people say states -- who generally oppose the federal government telling them what to do -- shouldn’t need a national mandate telling them to set up an Amber alert, especially given its recent success rate.
And unless the national law could somehow force broadcasters to participate, Bird said, it wouldn’t help states in their efforts.
"I don’t think any amber plan is going to success unless it has popular local support," Bird said. "It’s a grassroots type of thing."
Donna Norri, the mother of Texan Amber Hagerman, who was 9 years old when she was abducted and murdered and for whom the alert system is named after, recently told Fox News her daughter would be proud the system has been able to help return children home.
"It’s also a message to all of child molesters, child murders -- we’ve had enough as parents, leave our kids alone," Norris said.