For Operation Kidsafe, it all started with one fingerprint machine.
That one machine allowed Mark Bott, who founded of Operation Kidsafe 13 years ago, to work on his goal of helping keep children safe by fingerprinting them and creating a bio document. The document includes the fingerprints, a color photo and information about the child.
The idea to fingerprint children came from someone experienced in law enforcement.
“I was on a panel with a guy who was retired from the Secret Service and he said, ‘If you really want to do something for these families, you ought to check this machine we’ve got out,’” Bott said. “He said, ‘We use it for criminals, but you could use it for kids and it will give a beautiful set of digitized prints, a photograph and print it out on a form.’”
The form features all 10 fingerprints, instead of just one, for a very practical reason, he said.
“In an investigation, they might find just one, but it might not be that one print,” Bott said. “Every print is distinct, so typically most of the prints found at scenes are what they call grasp prints, thumb or the index finger, but often times it could be anything. So, just to be safe, we do all 10 and that way the parent has a lifetime record.”
To get this record, all parents have to do is bring their child or children to the event, where they will get fingerprinted, have a photo taken and get the only copy of the printed document in less than 60 seconds, Bott said. The only part not completed at the event is the filling out the personal information. This is done at home to respect the privacy of the family.
“There’s no databasing; we don’t even ask for a child’s name,” he said. “I’m a huge privacy person and I am of the belief that the only person you should give your child’s information to are your doctor, your dentist and your school. Other than that, nobody else needs it, including us.”
Besides leaving the event with the bio document, parents will also leave with a list of safety tips that can help them create a family safety plan.
“The No. 1 tip I really think is a lifesaver, it’s also the FBI’s No. 1 tip, it’s called ‘Check First,’” Bott said. “It’s a wonderful tip for a younger child because, what you find, if we even talk to our kids at all we tend to put the burden of safety on a child. So, what we train the younger kids is if you are approached by anyone, no matter who it is, if they ask you to go anywhere, do anything or take anything, you run as fast as you can to the adult in charge and check first. That means they’re taught that no matter who approaches them, they run as fast as they can to the adult in charge and check first.”
These tips have come in handy because Operation Kidsafe has helped protect over one million children, he said.
However, children are not the only one who can have a bio document made at the event.
“We recommend one year and up, but we have gotten viable prints on younger,” Bott said. “The other thing is, this is available for special needs adults and moms can have it done as well. It’s totally free for anybody in the community.”
While the bio document will last a lifetime, the only part that will need to be constantly updated is the photo of the child, he said. This should be updated yearly since the appearance of the child constantly changes.
Getting a bio document made and teaching children safety tips, Bott said, puts the safety burden back where it needs to be.
“We’ve learned a way now to take the burden of child safety off the child and it needs to be put on our shoulders as the parents,” he said.