Lawmakers today heard representatives from the State Patrol and Department of Transportation explain what went wrong with the Amber Alert system this spring. The Government Oversight Committee requested a review after D-O-T signs in the Cedar Rapids area did not carry the Amber Alert about Jetseta Gage, a 10-year-old girl who was taken from her home in Cedar Rapids and killed. Cedar Rapids Police Chief Michael Klappholz says he’s not sure the signs would have led them to find Gage any sooner. Klappholz says the morning after the event, “because of an Amber Alert going out” they were able to make an arrest together with Johnson County officers. He can’t say if the signs would have made any difference, but thinks the system worked well. Now he’s gone through an Amber Alert for the first time involving Cedar Rapids. Chief Klappholz says his impression is that the program’s well run. Police arrested Roger Bentley in the child’s abduction after an acquaintance of the suspects, who saw the Amber Alert on TV, called in. Sandra Larson is Research and Technology Director with the D-O-T and says the agency was updating its technology “and we had some process changes, and as a result of that the signs were not operating that evening.” Larson says since then the problem has been fixed, and she adds the D-O-T plans to install more of the so-called “dynamic message signs” next spring. State Patrol Captain Todd Misel says the system worked well enough. “We located the suspect, and the Amber Alert got somebody’s attention and they turned information in to us,” he points out. From that viewpoint, he figures it worked. Captain Misel says while the case ended with the discovery of the girl’s body, Iowa’s six previous Amber Alerts ended with the child recovered and someone under arrest. Misel says there was success solving the case even though it ended tragically. “We want to be engaged in a profession where we never lose,” he says, “and sometimes the way the cards are dealt to us that’s just not going to always be the case.” The lawmaker who requested the review, Republican Representative Joe Hutter of Bettendorf, says he’s satisfied with the findings. Hutter says after an April meeting to review procedures, he thinks they “tweaked it to have it work much better.” Hutter’s a retired police officer himself, and says he found nothing in the review of the Amber Alert that would have prevented the child’s murder.
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