From The Ethics Alarms Sarcasm Dept., Cross-Filed in “Unethical…But Funny!”: Yeah, THIS Sure Engenders Trust In The Competence Of State Law Enforcement


The Texas public safety department sent out an Amber Alert asking citizens to keep an eye out for Chucky, the homicidal possessed doll from the Child’s Play movies, who, it said, was a suspect in a kidnapping. The nonsensical message was blasted to people’s mobile phones three times.

It described the suspect as being called “Chucky” and described him as a 28-year-old with red, auburn hair, band blue eyes who stood at 3ft 1in tall and weighed 16lbs. He was wearing blue denim overalls, alarmed Texans were told with a multi-colored striped long sleeve shirt and was presumed armed with a large knife – matching his appearance in the films.

His race was listed as “Other: Doll.”

The department issued a statement saying: “This alert is a result of a test malfunction. We apologize for the confusion this may have caused and are diligently working to ensure this does not happen again.”

Oh, it’s a TEST malfunction! That’s OK then. “May have caused”? There’s no confusion: the Texas Safety Department is run by utter boobs. When a state department starts warning the public about fictional serial killers from horror movies, the best way to ensure it doesn’t happen again is to clean house.

I feel it necessary to post this song, from “Lil’ Abner”…

15 thoughts on “From The Ethics Alarms Sarcasm Dept., Cross-Filed in “Unethical…But Funny!”: Yeah, THIS Sure Engenders Trust In The Competence Of State Law Enforcement

  1. The moon is blue, pigs are flying, and I am rushing to the defence of the Texas public safety department.

    It is common, approved, standard best practice to test systems with syntactically correct data that if by mischance it accidentally escapes into the wild – not that it should – is instantly and unmistakably recognisable as bogus.

    It is also standard practice when testing error detection and correction subsystems to use syntactically incorrect data such as “doll” for race. Though that could be a free field, so “other:Klingon” might be allowable by the system specifications.

    I can think of at least 6 scenarios, one involving a program error during pre release testing, one a program error in release testing (appending live data to test data instead of wiping the test data first), 2 human errors in prerelease testing (only send to test phones not live), and 2 in release testing that could cause this.

    Only the human errors could be considered negligence. One of the possible bugs could be in 3rd party software that is being tested to see if it conforms to what was promised by the vendor, so out of the control of the Texas authorities.

    I earned a motza as an expert witness proving that fraud was not involved, just test data escaping, in one case. Still not fit for purpose, still incompetence, but not criminality. The test data in question was too plausible, no obvious signs of bogusity, so my services were required at what I thought was an eye watering rate, but lawyers seemed to think quite moderate. A senior lawyer in a small firm here will charge $50 per 6 minutes.

    But I digress.

    • I agree. In my industry, we also test the workings of certain systems with fake names like Mickey Mouse that are obviously not real people so that it doesn’t get processed as legitimate. Every so often, someone will put it into production by accident.

      • And do they get to run THREE TIMES before anyone checks it, notices it, and halts it? THREE TIMES???

        Come on.

        The whole thing is redolent of the Mary Tyler Moore “Chuckles the Clown” episode, where a pre-written fake obituary mocking a recently departed children’s entertainer who was trampled by an elephant (while dressed as a peanut in a parade) was read on the air by Mary’s TV station’s idiot anchor man, Ted Baxter.

        But even he had the sense to only broadcast it ONCE.

        If fake test announcements are released “every so often,” then it is incompetent not to have them include text that makes clear that they are not real.

        • One thing I have noticed in code development is the shocked, “It wasn’t supposed to do that!” Once it has done the unexpected, you have to fix it. Code, often convoluted, even properly documented can take time to parse through. Once the glitch has been discovered and a proposed solution has been made, you have to test to see if the error reoccurs, and to be sure you’ve handled the problem, you need to have the exact same scenario, else you might mask the error by leaving out the primary contributing element. So this three-fold message could have been: first message, initial error; second message, first attempt to fix; third message, second attempt to fix; and then the fix was finally made and the message did not spam out incorrectly a fourth time.

          • I cannot think of a valid reason not to be testing such changes in a test environment. Best practice is to set up multiple environments so these kind of things don’t happen in the production environment where your clients actually see the tests. You use a lower environment, i.e. a test environment to see if things are working. The lower environments are supposed to be identical to the production environment so the tests can be done without telling the public that Chucky is running amuck. If the lower environments aren’t set up identically, it’s usually because someone didn’t want to pay for something to be set up in the lower environments for testing purposes. Vendor licenses can be expensive.

            Code is always going to do weird things unless a programmer is especially good at foreseeing edge cases. Even the best programmers are going to miss something eventually. If you’re testing in a live environment, maybe use obvious test data to do the test? Name:Test Testing, Wearing: Test shirt, Test pants, Test Shoes, Last Seen: Test street. It would still be silly to send that out, but it won’t scare anyone.

            • I’ll admit my experience is limited to a single corporation, but our test environments work great. Then when we roll into production there’s four to six weeks of absolute pandemonium. And this is with heavy contract development support from the vendor.

              Of course, maybe it is Wyoming. We’re still catching up to the ’90s….

  2. I’m sorry, I’m having trouble here. You are apparently concerned that people might have been alarmed by this silliness?

    If so, they got exactly what they deserved. Unrepentant, intentional stupidity is it’s own… uh… reward, ethics notwithstanding.

    I will agree with you, though, that the Texas Department of Safety clearly did not act with appropriate seriousness. Even while I decry the apparent willingness of much of the public to gladly sacrifice their Constitutional guarantees and rights on the altar of safety, and approve of a sense of humor that acts as a foil for this tendency, it just doesn’t strike me as the right forum for putting a funny out.

    I think that the staff needs some re-evaluation to discover exactly what rationale, if any, was behind this. I hesitate to make it a firing issue except for the management, who has apparently not communicated to staff the appropriate gravity of their position.

    As to ethics, yes, it seems to be unethical to me, but not because of any putative public “alarm,” but rather a failure of management to properly train their personnel. Any public “alarm” caused by taking the Chucky character as a serious offender should be the subject of biting sarcasm and relentless ridicule.

    • I’d be alarmed that a state agency thinks child kidnappings are funny and fair topics for public jokes, or that the state agency is so inept as to allow this to happen. And if some Americans thought “The War of the worlds” was real, I’m sure some idiots believe in Chucky. Kids may have also heard the message. My son, when he was a child, was TERRIFIED of Chucky.

      • Yeah, but your son didn’t believe he was real, my guess is.

        Hell, I was afraid of the Horta (STTOS) when I was a kid, terrified it would spring out of my closet and dissolve me with acid. But I didn’t really believe it was real.

        I’m not defending what they did, but I am also aware that even if they had used a cute kitten in Chucky’s place, it would’ve been the same, on balance. Some kids irrationally fear cats, and unlike Chucky, they actually do exist.

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