Child identification kits have come a long way since McGruff the crime dog advised parents to keep updated pictures and fingerprints of their children in the 1980s.
Some kits offered to parents through schools or police departments now contain information on how to collect DNA samples from a child's mouth, blood and hair. Current dental records and even a video interview are components of other kits.
In May Chickamauga police Chief Michael Haney provided 90 kits to parents of kindergartners at Chickamauga Elementary School.
He might have underestimated the kits' popularity. He gave out all 100 kits and has had calls from parents of children in other grades for more. The kits cost the department $2 a piece and were purchased through the National Crime Prevention Council.
Cherie Minghini got a kit for her daughter who is in kindergarten at the school.
"I think it's a good idea. As parents you don't want to have to think about your child disappearing," Ms. Minghini said. "But if it saves time on the (investigation) process in the long run it's a good thing."
Ms. Minghini was an elementary-age child who lived in Hollywood, Fla., near where Adam Walsh was abducted in 1981.
Adam was the 6-year-old son of John Walsh, who went on to host America's Most Wanted and also pushed for the federal Missing Children's Assistance Act of 1984, which established the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Adam's head was found in a canal 120 miles away two weeks after his disappearance from a department store.
Ms. Minghini remembered being fingerprinted along with her classmates shortly after the incident.
"I think we're just being more proactive in trying to stop abductions or facilitate the (investigative) process," she said.
Police fingerprint the child on a card within the kit, the DNA samples are taken by parents, who then keep the entire kit at home.
"It's pretty valuable, fingerprints are a very useful tool," Chief Haney. "You never know what could happen, what kind of trace evidence that a child could leave behind."
The chief offered the kits to the school, and administrators then contacted parents to see if they wanted to participate.
"I do think it's very helpful and useful, every time you turn around there's a missing child," said Chickamauga principal Kristen Bradley.
Principal Bradley has two children. She keeps an updated photo of each with height, weight and other information. The photos are provided for parents by Lifetouch as part of the company's annual school photo shoots, she said.
Michelle Boykins, spokeswoman for the National Crime Prevention Council, said the group offers two types of kits. One is a CD that contains all the child's vital information and another is the physical evidence kit that allows parents to collect DNA samples for use if the child goes missing.
The information is stored only on the CD and not kept by the council or the companies that build the kits, she said.
Arfmann Inc. made more than 30,000 of the CDs last year. Boerner Inc. sold more than 260,000 ID kits the same year.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...