|"Blue Alert" system: to catch a (cop) killer|
Cathy Hill lost her husband in the line of duty when her husband, Deputy Barry Hill, engaged in a foot pursuit and never came home. The suspect shot Barry, a deputy with the Harris County Sheriff's Dept. in Texas, seven times. He ran off, hijacked a woman's car, and fled.
Cathy, a Spring, Texas mother of two daughters and president of the Greater Houston chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors, decided to do something.
She didn't want this scenario to happen to another law enforcement family.
"There had to be a way to find the offender as soon as possible," Cathy said, "before they can hurt someone else. And there had to be a better way to inform law enforcement around the state so they will hear about a line-of-duty death from dispatch, not an FM broadcast station." She points out that most people don't listen to their car radio, they listen to CDs.
She repeatedly wrote to the governor's office. Her pleas were finally heard on August 18, 2008, when Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the "Blue Alert" into law by executive order.
The Blue Alert executive order allows the Amber Alert System to be used when a law enforcement officer is killed or seriously injured and the offender is still at large. The legislation states that when "the investigating agency determines the offender poses a serious risk or threat to the public and/or other law enforcement personnel, the alert will be initiated."
The Blue Alert will immediately forward a detailed description of the offender, the offender's vehicle, and license plate information to state law enforcement agencies and to the public through media resources and the Department of Transportation's dynamic message signs along Texas highways.
Cathy attended the signing ceremony. Governor Perry stated, "Today, we are gathered to restate our gratitude for members of the law enforcement community, to reiterate our support for you and your families and to take a simple step that will rally the entire state to your side.
"This simple act will speed the apprehension of a person who could harm others or even escape prosecution for their crime. Working together, Texans can show their support for the brave men and women who protect them and ensure that those who do them harm are quickly captured, fully prosecuted and appropriately punished."
Texas joins two other states, Florida and Oklahoma, which have enacted similar legislation.
Cathy wants all fifty states to get on board. She wants to be sure that if an officer at the city, county, state, or federal level is seriously injured or killed in the line of duty, every agency in the state is quickly notified as well as every citizen.
The offender who fled after murdering her husband stole a car at gunpoint from an innocent woman. He had time to change out the license plates. He also obtained and doused his clothes with bleach in an attempt to rid himself of Barry's blood.
Cathy says the Blue Alert will keep the next offender from having the opportunity to cover up his crime and flee.
She recalls how difficult it was to know Barry's killer had escaped and having to wait for word of an arrest. She doesn't want other law enforcement families to have to endure what her family did. "The Blue Alert will help catch a criminal quickly. Hopefully, it won't be an all-day event like it was for us."
Cathy urges officers, unions, citizens, friends, and families to contact their governor's office, or state senators and representatives, and request similar legislation be enacted. She also recommends initiating petitions for signatures that can be sent to elected officials.
"Officers are invaluable," Cathy explained. "And they are more than just officers, they are family members. We must do everything we can to protect them. And when they are hurt we must do everything we can to get the criminal."
Information on the Texas Blue Alert can be obtained by phone by calling the Governor's Division of Emergency Management at 512-424-2208. Information and Criteria on how the Texas Blue Alert is activated can be found at: ftp://ftp.txdps.state.tx.us/dem/amber/blue_alert_information.pdf.
The LE only request form can be viewed at: ftp://ftp.txdps.state.tx.us/dem/amber/blue_alert_request_aug2008.pdf.
Barbara A. Schwartz writes exclusively about the brave officers of law enforcement from her home in Houston, Texas.subscribe