Last month a police officer in Houston was run over and killed during a traffic stop. The suspect got away. The next day, millions of phones across Texas buzzed with news of the officer’s death after the state’s Department of Public Safety blasted out what’s known as a Blue Alert. This prompted considerable concern and confusion. A man in Odessa, some 500 miles away, spoke for many when he tweeted: “wtf is a blue alert?”
Blue Alerts are mass notifications, now used in 35 states, that are sent to mobile phones and flashed on electronic highway signs when a suspect on the loose is thought to be an “imminent and credible threat to law enforcement.” The hope is that pinging the public will lead to tips for the police, and then a speedier capture. It’s an idea that originated with the better-known Amber Alert program, named after a 9-year-old abductee from Arlington, Texas, who was murdered, which aims to help authorities recover kidnapped children. Along with Blue and Amber alerts, there are Silver Alerts, issued for elderly people who are lost and might be suffering from dementia, and Camo Alerts, dispatched in at least three states when current or former members of the military are missing and thought to be a threat to themselves or others.