State Rep. Says Amber Alert System Must Be Utilized Properly
WESLACO – A set of strict criteria must be met before an Amber Alert is issued.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS reached out to State Representative Eddie Lucio III, who helped establish a similar alert system for the Rio Grande Valley.
He said these tools cannot be utilized lightly. When it comes to missing or endangered children, he said, it's always best to be cautious.
The Texas Amber Alert Network issued an Amber Alert Wednesday just before midnight.
It was for a 10-year-old boy from Rio Hondo. Ten hours later, the Amber Alert was called-off.
According to a statement from Rio Hondo Independent School District Superintendent Ismael Garcia, the fifth grade student was with his mother.
She picked him up from school during car pick-up and was at first taken for an "unknown person," Garcia stated.
Lucio extensively researched the Amber Alert system while working to establish the regional alert system. He said a child's safety always comes first.
"We'll deal with saying, 'I'm sorry,' later if we unknowingly made a mistake issuing an alert that wasn't needed," Lucio said. "We should always air on the side of protecting children."
Law enforcement agencies need to vet each case carefully, Lucio added, so the system won't be misused.
"They want to make sure it was truly merited and truly needed, and what they didn't want was Amber Alert systems going on all the time, where people started to not take them seriously and disregard it," Lucio said.
We wanted to know why staff at Rio Hondo Intermediate released a student to an "unknown person," prompting the amber alert.
Despite repeated phone calls to the Rio Hondo ISD Board President Manuel Flores Jr. and the superintendent, CHANNEL 5 NEWS has yet to hear back from them.
According to a spokeswoman with the Texas Education Agency, it's up to each school district to establish their own policies and procedures for safe student pick-ups.
Lucio said right now there's no need for that to change.
However, it may be necessary to revisit the Amber Alert criteria, "to make sure that the existing qualifications before an alert is issued are justified. And if we can modernize them, or change them, to benefit more families, that we do so, but still maintain the integrity of the system."
According to Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger, during this Amber Alert, no cell phone notifications went out to the public.
There was no license plate information, he said, it's a criteria that must be met, before notices are sent to cell phones.
The alert system that Lucio set-up is known as the Regional Alert System and that's for missing people that don't qualify for the Amber or Silver Alerts. The system is overseen by the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Department.
The Rio Hondo boy, school officials said, remains with his mother.