Bay St. Louis Police launch county wide child ID program

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - The Bay St. Louis Police Department is taking a unique approach to help parents and law enforcement agencies track down missing children. For the first time, officers are creating a countywide child identification program, and they are starting in the elementary schools.

It's a safety program that has never been done on this scale before in South Mississippi.  From now until the end of the school year, thousands of students will be fingerprinted, their pictures taken, and then questioned by police.

This week, the Bay St. Louis Police Department launched its child identification program at North Bay Elementary School.

"They get kidnapped, they come up missing, they run away, this program here will help the parents and police around the country identify who they are, where they went to, and once they're located, get them back where they belong," said Bay St. Louis Police Chief Mike De Nardo.

Officers, firefighters, and other volunteers used high-tech kits that were donated by the Leo Seal Foundation. They scanned each child's fingerprints electronically. The pictures are digital, which will allow them to enhance the photos to show how a child would look 10, 20 or 30 years in the future. The students also answered some simple questions on camera.

"Basically, who his best friend is, where they go if they're angry, where they live at, and that helps us in the case of a missing child and we can't do a positive physical ID, you can do voice analysis on the tape," said Chief De Nardo.

Each child received a laminated photo ID with his or her personal description and emergency contacts on it. Their parents or guardians will also get a copy of the information, along with a CD of the child's pictures, video, and voiceprint.

"You have a record, you have a fingerprint, you have a photo ID. You have something else to put your hands on when it's time to locate a child, if that ever happens, which we pray it never does," said Principal Dr. Toy Watts.

All the information will be entered into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children database. Officers will also provide DNA kits to parents.

The program is voluntary and it's free. The Bay St. Louis Police Department will try to reach as many children as possible across Hancock County, so they will be offering it to Head Start centers, preschools, private schools, even children who are home-schooled.

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