Little Falls, N.Y. – A child is reported missing every 40 seconds in the United States. That translates into over 2,100 children per day, in excess of 800,000 children each year. And according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, another 500,000 children go missing in this country without ever being reported.
It is a parent’s worst nightmare and it can become a community tragedy.
That is why the Little Falls Police Department is stepping up its efforts to bring people home safely by utilizing a high-tech tool that can reach 1,000 people a minute.
Called A Child is Missing, the rapid response telephone system alerts residents in a targeted area about a missing child, elderly person, college student and mentally challenged or disabled individual.
“It is a powerful tool,” said Chief of Police Michael Masi at Monday night’s Police and Fire Board meeting. He added that it is not uncommon for departments to receive calls of teenagers not returning home when they are supposed to be home. “Those calls are classified as missing persons until we determine where they are. With this system, we can wrap those cases up in minutes.”
Masi said that with a nursing home, retirement community and a considerable elderly population in the city of Little Falls, the system would not be put to use just for children.
“This system can be used for any case involving a missing person,” he said, adding that he attended a training seminar in Rome and that he was impressed with its effectiveness.
A Child is Missing can place 1,000 calls in sixty seconds, can process multiple cases simultaneously and can work without jurisdictional boundaries. Success stories abound, as 670 people have been successfully rescued since the Fort Lauderdale-based program began in 1997. The average recovery time in those safe recoveries has been 90 minutes from placing alert calls.
The program is at no cost to the department or to the public, as financial support comes from special events, sponsorship, private and corporate donations and state and federal funding. Appropriations from each state are used to maintain the program in that state.
Officer Shane Riolo said that when a person goes missing, his department will call A Child is Missing with a description of the missing person and where they were last seen. Within 15 minutes, people who live in the area will be notified by telephone through an automated telephone message system.
“When we receive a missing person call now, we hit the streets and knock on doors, but that is a few officers searching in a relatively small area,” said Riolo. “By utilizing this system, we can blanket a much larger portion of the community within minutes. It is a really effective system.”
Riolo said the automated voice will give the resident a description of the missing person, explain where he or she was last seen, what he or she was wearing and what car he or she was driving in. The pre-recorded message asks residents to help police by walking outside and looking for the individual.
“It’s as quick and easy as that,” said Riolo. “And if the missing person is seen in another area of the community, a second wave of messages can be sent out specifically targeting homes in that area.”
The system will only call public phone numbers. Individuals who only have a cell phone or who have a home phone number that is private are asked to sign up online at www.achildismissing.org and register their number, so they, too, can receive the emergency alert.
Riolo said individuals will only be contacted in the event of an emergency.