The father of the kidnapping victim in one of America's most infamous child murders says District officials mishandled the Relisha Rudd AMBER Alert and he believes the system should be dismantled across the country.
Advocate: AMBER Alert broken, Relisha Rudd case botched
'I would say the Relisha Rudd Amber Alert was completely botched in every way it could have been,' Marc Klaas, founder of KlaasKids.org told WUSA9.
Klaas became an advocate for missing children after his daughter, 12-year-old Polly Klaas, was abducted from her bedroom in Petaluma, California in 1993.
Police issued local radio bulletins, but did not broadcast the child abduction to surrounding areas.
That night, 30 miles away, officers unaware of the kidnapping came across the abductor when his vehicle became stuck in a ditch.
With no reason to search for evidence or Polly, police helped Richard Allen Davis get back on the road.
The kidnapping and subsequent murder of his daughter was one of the cases that prompted the call for Amber Alert.
'The Amber Alert we have right now would not have helped Pauli, it would not have helped Adam Walsh, it would not have helped Elizabeth Smart ,' Klaas said.
Amber Alert officials disagree.
'They would qualify under the current system for an Amber Alert,' said the Amber Alert Coordinator at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. ''You know there are a lot of flexibilities.'
Although the Amber Alert coordinator at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children acknowledges there are stringent requirements for Amber Alerts, Bob Hoever said the system is build to be flexible and all those cases would qualify today.
Klaas believes the Amber Alert system was broken from the start and is too restrictive with qualifications 'written in stone.'
'It's a broken system,' Klaas said. 'It was broken upon inception. The people who promote it most are the people who designed it.'
Washington DC police only have the authority to issue an Amber Alert within the District, which meant even when police claimed they had issued Amber Alerts all over East Coast, there wasn't even an Amber Alert for Relisha Rudd in Virginia or Maryland where the suspects wife was found murdered.
Klaas wants the state boundaries removed, officers on the street to be able to sound the Amber Alert alarm without going through time consuming layers of approval, more cases to qualify.
Police suspected Kahlil Tatum had Relisha Rudd March 19th and found his car outside room 132 at the Oxon Hill Red Roof Inn the next morning his wife shot to death.
The suspect's wife was found dead at 9:16 in the morning.
Police didn't issue the Amber Alert until 12:28 in the afternoon.
Phones were not pinged until hours later.
'The Amber Alert didn't work,' Klaas said. 'It's a poster case of what's wrong in this system and why we need to take drastic steps to fix the system.'
Klaas believes two decades after lessons learned in his own daughter's murder, an Amber Alert bureaucracy is slowing urgent communications that can save lives.
'76% of those kids will be dead within the first three hours,' Klaas said. 'This process takes an enormous amount of time, as everything with bureaucracy does take an enormous amount of time.'
NCMEC'S Hoever disagrees.
'It's not broken,' Hoever said. 'There are 688 children to date that have been safely rescued and returned specifically because of Amber Alert and the public's participation in that important program.
'They believe the Amber Alert system is working and working well,' Klaas asked rhetorically. 'Well, gee, ask Relisha Rudd about that.'
Hoever acknowledges the importance of verifying accurate suspect, vehicle, and victim information can reasonably slow activation.
He wouldn't comment about the three hours police waited after finding Tatum's murdered wife, or the seven hour delay in sending phone alerts, saying he doesn't know the facts of the Rudd case.
Klaas believes if officers on the streets were allowed to sound the alarm without going through regional Amber Alert coordinators and the NCMEC it would speed communications and save lives.
'Were they given the opportunity to do so, they would have been able to issue an amber alert within 10 or 15 minutes.' Klaas said. 'That was what Amber Alert was originally about. It was not about bureaucracy. It was not about creating a centralized system.'
Hoever says the current system is built adapt to specific cases, but he says general restrictions are needed to keep the public from being overwhelmed with false alarms.
DC police say in Relisha's case they made an exception to the rule requiring proof of abduction, but say to qualify for an Amber Alert, the abducted child must be imminent danger, police must have a description of the abductor and the abduction vehicle.
Klaas believes those guidelines disqualify too many cases, and consume too much time for layers of law enforcement to consider exceptions when the rescue process could be started immediately and activated across state lines.
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