Ontario Provincial Police are defending the first-ever use of an Amber Alert that cut off TV broadcasts, saying they’re “disappointed” with those complaining about the interruption.
The force said Monday the alert was instrumental in helping officers safely locate a boy who ran away from home only to get into a vehicle not at the hands of a kidnapper, as first feared, but rather his parents.
OPP say they received calls when concerned witnesses saw a man physically force the boy into a vehicle Sunday night in Orillia, Ont., about 140 km north of Toronto.
Officers immediately “took all investigative steps” to locate the boy — including canvassing the area, interviews, canine tracking, a news release and social media — but got nowhere, the force said.
OPP then sent out the province-wide Amber Alert — a decision that followed protocol and was “not taken lightly” — which led to numerous calls with additional information.
One of those was from the boy’s parents, who told police they were the ones in the vehicle picking him up, OPP said late Sunday night. The alert was cancelled at 11 p.m., about an hour after it aired.
“Immediate follow-up confirmed his location and well-being. I would personally like to thank the numerous citizens who called and used their social media channels to assist with this matter,” Insp. Pat Morris said in a release Monday.
But the alert triggered a round of complaining by many online, who groused at having their television viewing sharply interrupted when the blazing-red notice took over satellite, cable and digital TV broadcasts with what many called a loud buzzer before a voice read the message.
It also went out over radio stations.
Morris said he was “disappointed” with the gripers — some of whom even called 911 to vent — adding “While I will apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused, we won’t apologize for using all of the tools available to us to find a missing child.”
“We believed that an abduction had occurred and we had to act accordingly,” he later said in an interview.
The alert was in effect far outside Orillia because of the distance the vehicle could have travelled in the roughly four-hour time span between the first calls to police and when the alert went out, Morris explained.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is backing the new alert format, telling reporters she saw it while watching “Downton Abbey.”
“I think an alert that was that pervasive and that obvious to people was a very good thing,” she said.
“I was very impressed that it flashed on all our TV screens right at a time when a lot of people would have been watching a show.”
Under the old system, the Amber Alert would add a banner to the bottom of TV broadcasts, not stop shows completely.
The CRTC mandated last year that cable providers had to interrupt province-wide programming to display an Amber Alert.
OPP say the alert has been used 33 times in the 13 years since it was created.
The warning system quickly alerts the public of possibly abducted children who may be in imminent danger, the force says on its website.
With a file from Mark Carcasole and The Canadian Press