City of Residence: Warner Robins
Occupation: Officer, Perry Police Department
Q: National Missing Children’s Day was last week. Does that reflect a serious problem in Middle Georgia -- in Perry?
A: It’s a really serious national problem, but thankfully, here in Perry it hasn’t been. There isn’t an open missing-child case in memory. But that’s no reason we shouldn’t be concerned or vigilant in safeguarding our kids.
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Q: There hasn’t been an open case, does that mean no missing children?
A: No. It means in Perry, missing children have typically been found within hours. They were only at a friend’s (home) or somewhere their parents didn’t know about. We haven’t had an open, ongoing case.
Q: You say parents, adults, should be vigilant. What are some ways?
A: Common sense is the main way. Know where your children are. Be aware. Keep track. Twenty-five or 30 years ago we thought having harnesses on little kids was treating them like animals, but you see them all the time now -- those leash sort of things. They’re not a bad idea for small children in crowds. We all know kids can take off in a heartbeat. But being aware is the key. Using common sense and knowing where your kids are.
Q: So with a light history of missing children here, what’s your focus? Prevention?
A: It is, and helping parents know how to help police if their child does go missing.
Q: Like what?
A: Having a good child ID kit is one of the best things.
Q: How can parents get ID kits?
A: We have them. We do child ID kits for parents to keep on hand. We do them at public events like fall festivals and community events. We get invited to do them at schools and church events. All over.
Q: What’s the kit like?
A: It’s a little folder or booklet that has a place for a current picture as well as a description. Keeping that current is important. Looks, weight, height can change. Then there are things that don’t change, like fingerprints and DNA.
Q: DNA? You can have a DNA sample in the kit?
A: Just take a Q-tip and swab the inside of the child’s mouth, then put it in a Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer. It will keep. You can also put fingerprints in a bag in the freezer to keep them from smearing. There are different kits available and most law enforcement agencies have them to give away. We use a McGruff the Crime Dog version that has a fingerprint kit parents can use. Some kids are more comfortable if parents take the fingerprints.
Q: What’s other good information for the kit?
A: Full name, nickname, it’s good to put a date along with the height and weight so we’ll know how current that information is, hair color, eye color, special marks, moles or scars, friends’ names, that sort of thing. Parents keep the kit and have it if needed, God forbid. It’s helpful and provides some peace of mind, too, knowing right away it’s available.
Q: Couldn’t someone do that at home -- no official kit?
A: They could. And they could go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website (www.missingkids.com) and print one or see what information goes in it. The center has good resources and a missing children’s hotline (800-THE-LOST or 800-843-5678) to report a missing child or if you’ve seen a missing child. They’ve been responsible for getting millions of pictures of missing kids out to the public. They have good training for parents, teachers and even law enforcement. Chief (Stephen) Lynn and our department have used their information and training.
Q: If someone’s child goes missing, should they call 911 or that hotline number?
A: 911. That starts it. Missing children situations are emergencies and you should call 911. Missing children reports run through the Houston County Sheriff’s (Office’s) Juvenile Division with the local agency taking lead. Information goes to the GCIC (Georgia Crime Information Center) database and to the NCIC, they’re all tied together.
Q: Does the county’s Code Red emergency notification system come into play?
A: If warranted, yes.
Q: So keep tabs on children, use common sense, have an up-to-date ID kit -- what else?
A: Be sure to teach children their names. Of course it’s all age related, but teach them your real names -- the parents’ names. Teach telephone numbers and addresses. Teach 911. All those help. You know, one way to think about is to think if you were to find a child wandering, lost, what would help you find out who they belonged to? Help your children know what you’d need to know. And boy this is so important: Teach children they don’t need to be afraid of police. We’re not the bad guys. We’re here to help and to reunite them with families.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell.