Missing Elderly Legislation Passes; System Would Mimic Amber Alert

July 25, 2011
You may have seen an Amber Alert flash across your television screen recently, or perhaps you received a text message alert after news that an infant child and its mother were being held against their will by the child’s father on July 13. This incident took place east of Albany; however, law enforcement, as well as broadcasters and news media, and mobile cell phone companies helped spread the news across several states at a critical time through the Amber Alert System. Thanks to swift action by law enforcement, the man was apprehended and the mother and child went unharmed.

The Amber Alert has proven successful more than 500 times since its inception in 1996. In January 1996, Amber Hagerman was abducted while riding her bicycle and was then brutally murdered. The AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert network was created after her tragic death. According to the Department of Justice, "AMBER Alerts are emergency messages broadcast when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger. The broadcasts include information about the child and abductor that could lead to the child’s recovery, such as physical description and information about the abductor’s vehicle."

This session, the New York State Legislature passed legislation that establishes the Gold Alert. I was happy to support this in the Assembly. The Gold Alert, if signed into law, would be issued for elderly who have gone missing. Essentially, once law enforcement determines that an elderly person is missing, they would issue a Gold Alert. Similar to the Amber Alert, the network of those alerted would include law enforcement, broadcasters, transportation officials, the wireless industry, trucking carriers, retail outlets and many more.

The Gold Alert, however, is different in that it is aimed to protect those with Alzheimer’s or dementia who have wandered off. While they may not have an abductor, they are clearly still unsafe. Cases of missing people in Central New York prompted this legislation. According to local media reports, this legislation was thanks in large part to the family of Frank Wlosinski, a Syracuse-area man who had Alzheimer’s and went missing in January two years ago; sadly, his body was recovered two months later. Had local law enforcement been able to issue a Gold Alert then, the family believes their loved one wouldn’t have suffered this fate.

If the Governor signs this bill into law, the state would have 90 days to implement the system for a Gold Alert. The Amber Alert has proven successful, but law enforcement adheres to strict criteria before issuing one. Many have stated that, in order for the public not to become desensitized to such alerts, these alerts are rare and used only when someone is believed to be in imminent danger and a clear description of the abductor or other details that could lead to a capture can be disseminated to the public. New York issues roughly five Amber Alerts a year. For more information, visit http://amber.ny.gov/.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also may find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.