The Fenwick Island Police Department has become the first police department in the state of Delaware to engage in a full-fledged digital child identification and safety program.
Officers kicked off the program on Thursday, July 13, with a training session from My Family CD/Safe Kids Card Inc. and the first round of IDs in a program the company is aiming to take statewide.
The new ID program features two high-tech aspects, which the company says make it superior to other programs using plain plastic ID cards.
First, there’s ID card — a credit card-sized compact disc, called the Safe Kids Card, that holds a wealth of information on each child, with their photo on the front.
From basics such as name, address and phone number to nearly limitless details on medical conditions, emergency contacts and birthmarks, the discs are designed to give families, law-enforcement officials and medical personnel the most information on a child in the least amount of time.
Each of the CDs also includes digital photographs of the child, from three angles, to help anyone looking for a lost child find them quickly, as well as fingerprints (digital or taken by ink) to ensure a correct identification.
And, in one of the best features of the new ID system, files can — and, according to My Family CD’s Jennifer Hawkins, should be — periodically updated. Hawkins recommended updating photos and other changeable information annually for young children, less often as the minimum for older kids, who change less over that span of time.
That means parents can also update their home address if they move, if grandparents move, or to include other contact information, such as a new cell phone.
The disc-card design, Hawkins said, is meant to be portable and easy to carry. Parents can keep the card in their wallet, or in their cars (Hawkins said it was durable enough to survive even hot summers’ days), instead of relegating it to a far-away and sometimes inaccessible “safe place.”
That means an even smaller potential time lapse in getting that kind of important information to law-enforcement officials in a time of crisis.
Further, the information — including photos — can be quickly e-mailed to law-enforcement officials and media to help expand a search area or printed from any computer. Or medical information, such as allergies, can be provided to medical personnel.
Hawkins noted that the Safe Kids Card kits provided to the FIPD are “police department-specific,” differing from the ones available directly to parents on the MyFamilyCD.com Web site. And provided at no cost, they’re also cheaper than the approximate $25 cost for a two-card kit for each child as sold directly to parents.
A bite of prevention
The second aspect of the new FIPD program involves Toothprints.
Made much like some types of modern dental castings, the Toothprints are created from a special thermodynamic plastic wafer that softens when soaked in hot water for a few minutes. A child then bites into the material for 50 seconds, leaving the impression of their teeth — a key identifying marker.
According to the manufacturer of the Toothprints wafer, “Dental restorations and X-rays have historically been the primary basis for dental identification, but the successful fight against tooth decay has left many children with no cavities and, thus, no dental records.”
Additionally, they said, “A Toothprints impression also captures saliva, which is a powerful source of human scent, thus making Toothprints effective for scent-dog tracking.” And the Toothprints impression can also capture a DNA sample, making it a multi-function identification tool.
Hawkins said children as young as 1 year old can make a reliable Toothprint, while fingerprints begin to lose their early “mushy” quality after 6 months of age — making the time around a child’s first birthday the ideal time to start them with a program such as the one in Fenwick Island. That means even the smallest of toddlers can participate in the identification program, right along with their school-age siblings or cousins.
In addition to the Toothprints and ID cards, the Fenwick Island Police Department is also offering colorful Tyvek ID bracelets to help ensure lost children are reunited with their families in short order. According to Hawkins, the high-tech material means “They won’t tear. They can get wet.”
That makes them perfect for a summer at the beach. And with just a cell phone or local contact number, police and lifeguards on Fenwick Island’s beaches will be able to make those kinds of reunions happen.
A lasting impression
The package received a warm welcome from the parents and grandparents who turned out at the July 13 demonstration at Fenwick Island Town Hall.
Tami Beam — who offered up 10-year-old daughter Amanda as the program’s first volunteer — commented, “This is a nice program,” as she waited for her younger daughters to take their turns in front of the FIPD cameras for their own IDs.
And as Hawkins noted, the program in Fenwick Island isn’t a one-time registration drive, but rather an ongoing program. That means there isn’t any one day or time for parents to bring their children in to get their cards and Toothprints.
Instead, interested parents should call the Fenwick Island Police Department and speak to Sgt. William Boyden, who will schedule an appointment for the family with an FIPD officer. That will help ensure families have plenty of time to compile all their emergency information and have enough time — and patience — for photographs and Toothprints of each child in the family.
But even if parents end up with a cranky and uncooperative child at the time of their appointment, Hawkins said there’s no need to worry. “We don’t want to have a perfect photograph of the child at their best,” she said, noting that the ID photographs would most likely be used to identify a child unhappy to be separated from their family.
However — as contrary as it may sound — that’s a circumstance Hawkins said she hopes never comes to pass. The program isn’t designed just to provide information in the case of an emergency, she said, but involves a whole educational program of safety reminders and information for parents to help prevent any need to ever use their child’s ID card or Toothprint.
“If they never have to use the cards, we’re happy,” she said.
But just in case that might happen, the ID cards, bracelets and Toothprints are being made available by the Fenwick Island Police Department, as part of ongoing community outreach projects.
Police Chief Colette Sutherland said, “The state gives us money every year. One year we use it for us. The next year we use it for the community, in community outreach programs. And I thought this would be a great community outreach program.”
In addition to the Safe Kids Card program, the FIPD is using the State Aid to Local Law Enforcement (SALLE) grant this year to buy educational coloring books that teach children about police officers and the 911 emergency number, as well as other community outreach and safety efforts.
For more information on the child ID program, or to schedule a child ID appointment, contact FIPD’s Sgt. William Boyden at (302) 539-2000.