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Senator to propose new alert system for hit-and-run drivers

There is AMBER and Silver, and soon there could be Yellow.

The AMBER and Silver Alert systems spread information on endangered children or frail seniors, respectively, who have gone missing. Messages issued by state police pop up on phones, on highway billboards and on the Internet.

State Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, wants to expand these services. His proposed Yellow Alerts would use the same means to disseminate information on hit-and-run drivers, including descriptions of the vehicles and suspects involved.

Simonaire said the system could help police solve hit-and-run cases, of which there have been a number in this area. The latest involved Linda Lea Suski, 67, of Glen Burnie, who was killed Dec. 11 when she was hit by a sport utility vehicle that fled the scene. Suski was trying to cross Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard with a walker.

Her death is the latest of five unsolved fatal hit-and-runs in Anne Arundel County since 2009 — three of them in Simonaire's district. The senator said his proposal is a direct result of these incidents.

"I've seen the families and how it weighs on them month after month, not finding out what happened and who did it," Simonaire said. "It is a tragic situation."

The Maryland State Police, who issue the alerts, said Anne Arundel County had one AMBER Alert and five Silver Alerts this year through Thursday. There are strict requirements for these reports, and there are relatively few of them compared to the 634 missing persons reports filed with Anne Arundel County police this year through Dec. 12.

The state police said they don't track the results of the alerts.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said AMBER Alerts, which heighten public awareness of license plate numbers and vehicle and suspect descriptions, have resulted in the recovery of 723 children since 1996.

AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The program was created in 1996 in response to the kidnapping and killing of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas.

Anne Arundel's most recent AMBER Alert was in October after an Odenton woman got into an argument with her boyfriend and drove off with her 2-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, police said.

There were initial reports the woman had threatened to drive off a bridge with her children. But when she discovered the alert had been issued, she called the authorities and denied making any such threats.

Lt. T.J. Smith, an Anne Arundel County police spokesman, said the alert systems help police by directly delivering information on suspects to the public.

Police don't issue the alerts until they have enough information and determine the situation warrants it, Smith said.

"We think it is critically important," he said. "When the law starts closing in around people, they can't operate under a veil of secrecy."

In 2013, some 50 children were returned in 194 cases in which there were Amber Alerts, according to a report by The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The recoveries were a direct result of the alerts in 41 cases, the center said. That's a 21 percent effective rate.

Bob Hoever, Amber Alert coordinator for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said the system is successful if it brings home just one child.

"It is tremendously effective," Hoever said. "The key to that program is public participation, and also the key is not oversaturating the public with alerts."

Hoever said the alerts have strict criteria and are geographically targeted so that the public receives only relevant messages.

Simonaire said his proposed new alerts wouldn't lessen the impact of the existing ones.

He said that while pertinent information on hit-and-runs would have to be available before an alert could be issued, he hopes the information would make it possible to catch offenders before they can hide their vehicles.

He plans to introduce the legislation after the General Assembly session begins Jan. 14.

"People are gratified when a child is found through the AMBER Alert system," Simonaire said.

"They would be thrilled to get a (hit-and-run) driver off the street."

Ben Weathers contributed to this report.

Maryland AMBER Plan Criteria

These criteria are used to determine if an Amber Alert should be issued in Maryland:

•Law enforcement confirms a child has been abducted.

•The child is under 18.

•Law enforcement believes the circumstances surrounding the abduction indicate the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death.

•There is enough descriptive information available about the child, the abductor or the suspect's vehicle to indicate that an immediately broadcast alert would help.

•The child is believed to still be in the broadcast area.

•The child's name and other critical elements have been entered into National Crime Information Center database by police.

Source: Maryland State Police

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