Warner demands firm deadline for Ashanti Alert implementation

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WASHINGTON (CBS19 NEWS) -- Once again, Senator Mark Warner wants to know what is holding up the implementation of the federal Ashanti Alert System.

He has repeatedly expressed frustration over delays and inaction on the part of the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the system, which was created by the Ashanti Alert Act.

President Donald Trump signed the bill into law more than nine months ago.

Warner has sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and demanded a firm deadline for the national launch of the alert system, which was named for 19-year-old Ashanti Billie, who was abducted in Norfolk and whose body was found nearly two weeks later in North Carolina.

He also called the current inaction and lack of communication regarding the implementation of the law "unacceptable."

"The delayed implementation of this critical public safety program is costing lives," wrote Warner in his letter. "In our meeting, Ms. Sullivan had shared with me a number of concrete steps she would be taking to speed up implementation, and relayed she understood the importance of getting this alert system up and running in each state. However, in the two months since that meeting, there has been little progress on any of the items we spoke about. As well, the department has subsequently failed to provide my office with any tangible updates or information in follow up emails."

He also points to how Virginia was able to implement the state version of the system in just three months.

At the time of her abduction, Billie was too old to qualify for an AMBER Alert and too young to require a Silver Alert, but the Ashanti Alert System can notify the public about a missing or endangered adult between the ages of 18 and 64 and help law enforcement in the search through a national communications network.

Warner cites numerous unanswered requests for updates regarding the national version of the system and has called on the DOJ to provide any further information on its implementation by Oct. 11.

Scroll down to read his letter:

October 4, 2019

The Honorable William P. Barr
The Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C., 20530

Dear Attorney General Barr:

Over nine months ago, President Trump signed the Ashanti Alert Act (P.L.115-401) into law. I write to you for a third time about delayed efforts by the Department of Justice to get this crucial system implemented in a timely manner. This week marks two years since 19-year-old Ashanti Billie was found murdered – 11 days after she was initially reported missing. Because of Ashanti’s age, she did not qualify for AMBER or Silver Alerts and thus critical resources were not used to locate her whereabouts. This bipartisan bill passed with support from numerous organizations including the National Association of Police Organizations and the National Association to PROTECT Children. The delayed implementation of this critical public safety program is costing lives.

On July 29th, I met with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katherine Sullivan, who is also serving as the Ashanti Alert Coordinator, to express my concern about the delay and talk to her about next steps. I sent her a follow-up letter in early August memorializing our conversation, and agreed upon next steps. In our meeting, Ms. Sullivan had shared with me a number of concrete steps she would be taking to speed up implementation, and relayed she understood the importance of getting this alert system up and running in each state. However, in the two months since that meeting, there has been little progress on any of the items we spoke about. As well, the Department has subsequently failed to provide my office with any tangible updates or information in follow up emails.

One of my major concerns is that despite my urging, there has been no outreach to relevant officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia, who successfully helped implement a Virginia Ashanti Alert system in only three months. Delaying these key conversations regarding best practices will only slow implementation of this life-saving system. Below, for your information is a short timeline of the follow-up my staff has done, and the relevant responses my staff has received:

• On August 6, 2019, my staff emailed the Department to share contacts with the Virginia State Police who would be happy to talk with the Department about how to best work with states toimplement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. My staff also requested an update on a meeting with the CTIA The Wireless Association, and asked if there had been further conversations with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Both are topicsabout which Ms. Sullivan and I spoke.

• On August 22, 2019, my staff once again asked for updates on the CTIA and COPS meetings, as well as whether the Department had spoken with the Virginia State Police to utilize its expertise.Additionally, we asked for a contact at the Department to share with another state interested in setting up a system similar to the Ashanti Alert.

• On August 29, 2019, my staffed asked yet again for the above information.

• On September 10, 2019, more than one month after my meeting with Ms. Sullivan, my staff asked a fourth time for the above items about which Ms. Sullivan and I spoke. We also requestedan update on the Ashanti Alert implementation status.

• On September 24, 2019 and September 30, 2019, my staff requested these answers for a fifth and sixth time. We have since received the Department contacts as well as information that theCTIA meeting was replaced with a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The lack of movement on implementing this critical alert system, and the lack of communication with my office is unacceptable. Thus, I am asking for a response from the Department regarding next steps. Please respond to my office no later than Thursday, October 11, 2019 with details on the following questions:

• Are there any further updates on the Ashanti Alert implementation efforts? If so, please provide a detailed update on these efforts.

• Has the Department contacted relevant Virginia officials to discuss how the Commonwealth successfully implemented an Ashanti Act system? If so, please provide a detailed update on these conversations. If not, please explain the delay.

• Are there any further updates regarding the Ashanti Act implementation meeting(s) between the Department and the FCC? If so, please provide a detailed update on these meetings.

Finally, I would like a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system. Further delay of this critical public safety program will only cost lives. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your expeditious response.



 
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