FCC Creates Blue Alert to Aid Law Enforcement, Public

The FCC today adopted a report and order modifying the Emergency Alert System (EAS) by creating a Blue Alert to aid law enforcement officers and the public when dangerous suspects are on the loose.  “Blue Alerts warn the public when there is actionable information related to a law enforcement officer who is missing, seriously injured or killed in the line of duty, or when there is an imminent credible threat to an officer,” the FCC said in a news release. “A Blue Alert could quickly warn you if a violent suspect may be in your community, along with providing instructions on what to do if you spot the suspect and how to stay safe.”

The Blue Alert code will give state and local agencies “the option to send these warnings to the public through broadcast, cable, satellite, and wireline video providers.  Officials may also send Blue Alerts through the Wireless Emergency Alert system to consumers’ wireless phones,” the news release added.

“Today’s action supports the development of compatible and integrated Blue Alert plans throughout the United States, a goal consistent with the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015.  The Act, which is implemented by the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), directs cooperation with the FCC,” the news release said.   The Act was named for two New York Police officers killed in the line of duty three years ago.

“Today’s Order provides a 12-month implementation period for Blue Alerts to be delivered over the Emergency Alert System and 18 months for delivery over the Wireless Emergency Alert system,” it added.

The draft Blue Alert order adopted today in PS docket 15-94 follows up on a notice of proposed rulemaking adopted in June proposing to amend the EAS to add the event code “BLU” for Blue Alerts (TR Daily, June 22).

Before the FCC adopted the order today, the father and wife of one of the New York Police officers killed in 2014 and the wife of the other spoke in favor of the action, prompting the Commissioners to deliver their statements somberly and emotionally.

“My hope is that this alert will prevent another family from having to endure what my family has had to endure in the past three years,” said Maritza Ramos, the wife of Detective Ramos. “I truly believe that the work that has gone into making this act possible will save other officers’ lives.”

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel dissented in part on the item. “This new code and these three letters have the potential to save lives and increase situational awareness for our first responders,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. “I dissent, however, on one aspect of today’s decision.  In evaluating the merits of the Blue Alert system that we adopt today, the Commission puts forward a cost-benefit analysis that weighs the cost of industry compliance against the value of a police officer’s life.  You heard that right — in deciding whether to impose a requirement under this law the Commission puts a price on the death of first responders and then nets it out against industry expenses.  Fortunately for law enforcement, the math works out.  But this cold calculus is neither needed nor smart.  There is a way to do cost-benefit analysis thoughtfully and with dignity for those who wear the shield — some of whom sit before us right here, right now.  This isn’t it.  On this disrespectful analysis, I dissent.”

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, while voting for the item, also mentioned the cost-benefit analysis.

“The Commission should do what we can, within our statutory authority, to assist and protect our law enforcement professionals and the American public at large.  To the extent that an appropriate public safety agency finds that the BLU alert code could be helpful and voluntarily decides to activate this warning, I will support their ability to do so,” he said. “However, I am not sure this code, if ever triggered, would provide added protection for public safety officials or the general public, as the item suggests.  When events that would now generate a BLU alert code occurred in the past, our nation’s local broadcasters traditionally jumped right into action to inform the public.  Moreover, public safety officials already have separate devices and codes to communicate if and when such horrific events occur.  For this reason, the cost-benefit analysis in this item continues our streak of subpar work in the public safety area.  For instance, instead of a true analysis of the benefits, it dredges up the same discredited value of a statistical life that the Commission abused in the past.”

“An estimated 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 centers each year. But when the need arises for one of us to make that dreaded call for help, it is our nation’s first responders — which includes law enforcement officers — who step up, often at great risk to their own personal safety, to ensure ours. For that, we will always be indebted,” said Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn. “So it pleases me greatly to show support for them through today’s Order which revises the Commission’s Emergency Alert System, or EAS rules. Adding a three-character Blue Alert event code is the most effective means to share vital information in critical situations involving: the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty; an officer who is missing in connection with his or her official duties; or an imminent and credible threat that an individual intends to cause serious injury to, or kill, a law enforcement officer.”

“Today, the FCC does its part to help promote the safety of our nation’s law enforcement officials and the communities they serve,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr. “We do so by facilitating the use of Blue Alerts, which can provide advanced warning of imminent threats to law enforcement. This is a crucial effort. Last year, 135 officers were killed in the line of duty and 21 of those were ambush-style killings. In many of these cases, the perpetrators posted imminent and credible threats to law enforcement officers ahead of time on social media, and some of them may have been thwarted by a coordinated National Blue Alert Network.”

“Detectives Ramos and Liu made the ultimate sacrifice.  We owe them and their brave family members who have come here today a tremendous debt of gratitude.  We cannot begin to fathom your pain.  But we can honor your sacrifice,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “And the FCC attempts to do that today by adopting rules so that police officers across America, and the communities they so proudly serve, will be better protected.”

During a news conference after today’s meeting, FCC staffers were asked about Ms. Rosenworcel’s criticism of the cost-benefit analysis.

Lisa Fowlkes, chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, declined to respond to Ms. Rosenworcel’s statement. But, she said, “The life of a police officer is … highly valuable.”—Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily