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Dickinson police: Child identification kits available

While nobody likes to think about what steps they would take if their children went missing, it's a question authorities say every parent should face so that they might be prepared in such an instance.

Unfortunately, such a nightmare scenario -- arguably one of the worst fears of parents -- isn't as rare nationwide as it is in western North Dakota. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, nearly 800,000 children younger than 18 go missing each year. That's an average of 2,185 each day.

Breaking down the numbers, the center statistics show that more than 200,000 abducted children are taken by family members, while more than 58,000 are taken by non-family members. Cases of the "stereotypical" kidnapping in which the child is held overnight or transported 50 miles or more occur about 115 times a year.

But according to local law enforcement, there is one step that prepared parents and youth groups can take to help agencies locate a missing child or a child crime victim: Secure and update an identification kit.

A tool to potentially help authorities locate and identify a missing child, such a kit contains a document with medical information, a photo, finger prints, personal information and, now, a DNA sample in the form of a hair follicle sample.

The kits are for parents to keep in case of an emergency. So far this year, the Dickinson Police Department has given out about 100 of the kits, said Lt. Dave Wallace.

"Nobody wants to think about a scenario like that, but it's a good idea to have one," Wallace said. "We've given out three kits just this week and we're going to be giving out about 20 more to several local groups."

For whatever reason, Wallace said the numbers of kits being requested are down.

"We used to give out four or five hundred every year," Wallace said. "We haven't had that many requests lately. By law, we can't finger print or take samples from juveniles, but parents can."

Badlands Integrity Group, a private safety advocacy company based in Dickinson, also hands out the kits for free. The group has given out 172 of the kits in 2012.

"We encourage parents take one when they're here for other reasons," BIG Clinic Coordinator Summer May said. "A laboratory is able to test the root of a hair follicle for DNA, which is something that is very effective."

Jefferson Elementary Principal Dr. Rebecca Pitkin said her school doesn't participate in handing out such kits, but that she has noticed them in use in other schools.

"I haven't seen them used much around here," Pitkin said. "They were used by schools in Iowa when I used to work in that state, but I think it's more of an urban-type practice."

Parents who keep child identification kits are encouraged to update them every year. Safety advocates also recommend children of appropriate age know their complete name, address and phone number.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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