published Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Red Bank offers ID cards to help locate children and adults who wander away from caregivers

Every week, the Red Bank Police Department works cases involving children and adults who have gone missing or wandered away from their caregivers.

Usually they must work with panicked guardians who are scrambling to find their most recent photos and any identifying information.

The department is hoping a new, suitcase-sized computer system will be able to help them alleviate that panic and return missing people home more quickly. The system will create ID cards and digital documentation that caregivers can keep on hand, just in case.

The department is hoping to target what it calls its "at-risk" population -- children, adults with special needs and elderly people coping with forms of dementia.

"I hope we never have to use [the system]," said Red Bank Police Chief Tim Christol. "But we deal with missing children cases and walk-aways on a regular basis. We have a large senior population and a large special-needs population which can result in more of these cases. ... We have to take each one very seriously."

The number of reports officers respond to varies month by month, Christol said. In June so far, he noted, officers have responded to nine missing-person reports.

The $4,000 EZ Child ID system was jointly purchased this month by the Red Bank Chamber of Commerce and Lane Funeral Home.

"We thought it was a good investment, for the children and for others," said Ed English with Lane.

English said he has been involved in some "difficult" instances in which elderly people went missing and were not easily identifiable when they later were found deceased.

"It's one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but if you have to, you've got it," said Kathy Schein, president of the Red Bank Chamber of Commerce. "You're one step ahead of the game if something should happen."

Red Bank's department plans to start using the portable system to partner with schools, community and senior groups over the next several months.

The system allows police to create a document and CD that includes a person's photo, full set of fingerprints, identifying features and contact numbers. Parents can even choose to include video snippets.

Getting the ID is voluntary, Christol said. The data is not meant to be kept by police, he said, and will be turned over to legal guardians.

Digital ID systems like this one are being used by departments nationwide as a way to make parents and caregivers feel more prepared for an unexpected disappearance.

Chattanooga Police Sgt. Wayne Jefferson oversees that department's digital ID system and said it creates ID cards for 500 to 700 people each year.

"A lot of times if your kid goes missing, you're panicking and it takes you a while to get everything together," Jefferson said. "We encourage parents to keep one card and give the other to the child in case they're lost and need to give that information to an officer."

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