Photo courtesy of Operation Kidsafe
Operation Kidsafe, a nonprofit organization that provides parents with copies of their child’s digitally scanned fingerprints and safety tips, will be bringing their potentially lifesaving event to Murfreesboro next month.
The organization began 17 years ago when Operation Kidsafe Founder Mark Bott was prompted to take action.
“We had a family safety emergency, and I sold some businesses and decided I was going to do some volunteer work,” Bott said. “It just seemed to me like the bad guys had all the information, and parents had none. So, we were founded to inform parents on what they can do to keep their kids safe … Roll ahead 17 years later, and we have safeguarded over one million children.”
Bott’s organization travels across the country and hosts events in different locations. Parents in the community are asked to bring their children to the events and are provided with a free “bio document” that contains 10 copies of the child’s digital fingerprints, an updated photo of the child and safety tips for the parents to discuss with their children. Two of these events will be hosted at the Chevrolet, Buick and GMC dealership on John R. Rice Boulevard on Friday, April 13 from 1 to 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.
“The safety tips are what we want the parents to talk to the kids about,” Bott said. “The document jump-starts the conversation. Because, let’s face it, there’s no one who wants to have this discussion with their kids. You don’t want to ruin their perspective on life, and yet, you do have to have this conversation in case they run headlong into a bad guy. And, they’re out there, trust me.”
Bott said that the safety tips have been developed over the years through his experience with law enforcement. The nonprofit has worked with law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the Secret Service, to enhance the tips. Bott also spent four years working as an adviser for the TV show “America’s Most Wanted,” in which host and missing-children advocate John Walsh encouraged viewers to be on the lookout for criminals that were profiled on the show.
Through his work as an adviser to Walsh, Bott became involved in creating the Amber Alert in 1996. The Amber Alert is a child abduction alert system, which was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl that was kidnapped and murdered in 1996. Walsh was crucial in advocating and spreading the Amber Alert system once it was developed.
“I was there in Dallas when it was first floated as an idea back in the ‘90s,” Bott said. “I was hosting a town meeting, and Amber Hagerman’s parents were in the front row. They said, ‘We’re trying to get a law in which media, law enforcement and the public are all on the same page,’ and I said, ‘What a great idea.’ So, that’s where it started, and Walsh was a champion of it.”
The documents provided by Operation Kidsafe at the organization’s events are meant to be kept by parents in the case of an emergency, such as the occurrence of a missing child. At the time of an emergency, the parents are able to simply hand the document to police to help ease their investigations.
“You need to have information for law enforcement if your child is missing,” Bott said. “This gives law enforcement the digital fingerprints.”
The organization never uses a database to track the children that come to the events, and the organization does not ask for the names of children. Despite this, Bott said that he knows of many events in which the bio document is critical in solving a family emergency.
“Law enforcement will tell you that when they go out to a scene where the child is missing, the parent is curled up in a ball in the corner,” Bott said. “They have no information, and they can barely speak, much less be an advocate for their child. What we provide is a form. (Parents) have something on hand that police can tangibly use.”
Bott said that police can tell instantly if a child has been in a certain area if they have fingerprints rather than just DNA data.
“With DNA, it might take a week,” Bott said. “When your child is missing, you don’t have a week.”
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