Police in Canada have issued a rare rebuke to the public after a late-night emergency mobile phone alert about an abducted child prompted widespread complaints.
At 11.36pm on Thursday night, police in Ontario issued an amber alert for Riya Rajkumar, 11, after police feared the girl’s father had kidnapped her.
Shortly after the alert was issued, police found her body, but they said that calls from the public helped them locate and arrest her father, Roopesh Rajkumar.
A second alert was sent at 12.21am, saying Riya had been located.
But police say they received a barrage of angry calls, as Ontario residents complained that the alert was issued too late at night.
“I can’t even begin to describe how disappointing and upsetting it is to read the comments, emails and calls to our communications bureau complaining about receiving an mber alert late at night,” tweeted Constable Akhil Mooken, a spokesperson for Peel regional police. “I appreciate that a lot of people were sleeping but the immediate need to locate the child outweighed the momentary inconvenience that some people encountered.”
Police also acknowledged the late night alert at a press conference the next morning, saying complaints continued after the search was called off. “I feel for everyone, but given the circumstances, it did lead to the arrest of the individual, so I think that’s what we need to focus on,” said Constable Danny Marttini.
The amber alert system is named after Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old child abducted and murdered in Texas in 1996. The text messaging system, which is automatically sent to phones in an area where the child could be, is intended to alert the public of the ongoing search. During an amber alert, electronic highway signs often display the details of the search and suspect descriptions.
Canada first adopted the alert system in 2002, and requires the abducted person be under the age of 18 before the alert is sent out. Police must also believe the child is in imminent danger. A number of countries, including Mexico, Australia and 20 European nations have similar alert systems in place.
Despite the numerous complaints, police say the alert helped locate the murder suspect and his vehicle. The Peel regional police tweeted: “The system works. Thank you to all those that called with tips”.