Following the death of two-year-old Caylee Anthony, more than a million people signed a Change.org petition to create a law that would, make it a felony for a parent to not notify law enforcement that their child is missing within 24 hours. Several states have proposed such legislation in the wake of the Casey Anthony trial, but now authorities in Florida are warning that the law is unlikely to do much good, and may actually harm kids and grieving parents.
There have been several bills introduced in Florida alone since Casey Anthony was acquitted in the state. According to the Associated Press, they would require parents to report children missing within 12, 24, or 48 hours, and to inform the police of the death of a child within an hour or two. The petition says the aim of the legislation is to "keep another case like Caylee Anthony out of the courts," but even though Casey waited 31 days to report that her toddler was missing, there's no reason to believe such a law would have saved the girl's life.
Yesterday law enforcement officials told a Florida State Senate committee that they're concerned the law would reinforce the idea that there's a waiting period before you can report a child missing. The vast majority of police departments do not require a 24-hour wait before you can file a missing person report for an adult, and a missing child should be reported immediately. The surly cop who laughs at a call about a missing person while shoving another donut into his mouth was invented by Hollywood to explain why the hero needs to take matters into his own hands. That image makes many peopl wait too long before contacting police about their child. Citrus County Sheriff Jeffery Dawsy told the committeee, "We've been trying to beat that dead horse down left and right, and we just haven't done an effective job."
Also, while it's extremely unusual for a parent to wait a whole month before contacting police about a missing child, there are plenty of scenarios that could lead to innocent parents being charged under the proposed law. A parent might not realize a child is missing for 24 hours because they said they were sleeping at a friends house. Allowing only two hours to report a child's death is also problematic because it would make it possible to prosecute parents whose children aren't discovered for hours after an accidental death or suicide, or those who can't report the death because they're in an isolated area or trapped during a disaster.
Authorities say they are in favor of increasing penalties for people who give police false information during the investigation into a child's disappearance. Right now the crime is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum one-year jail sentence in Florida. Officials say increasing it to a felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison could make people more willing to cooperate in a police investigation.
The driving force behind the push for Caylee's Law is a desire to see Casey Anthony punished for her daughter's death. The way to prevent more tragic deaths like Caylee's isn't to create more ineffective laws, but to work with law enforcement on strengthening laws that could actually help them save kids' lives.