New initiative aims to protect area children

School Resource Officer Deputy B. Vanlandingham helped fingerprint a happy and interested student last week.

School Resource Officer Deputy B. Vanlandingham helped fingerprint a happy and interested student last week.

The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office made a massive sweep last week, however it was not to collect criminals.

Rather, it was an unprecedented effort to protect the county’s most vulnerable residents; its children.

Beginning on Monday, Oct. 21, the sheriff’s office began a widespread effort to fingerprint and photograph as many youth as possible at all three Richmond County Public Schools in conjunction with public, state and school officials.

With parental permission, students were briefly diverted from their classes so that in the event of the unimaginable, tools would be readily available to find and bring that student back home as quickly as possible.

“What this is used for is if a child goes missing, is abducted or runs away, it is a resource parents can have ready for law enforcement so we can get Amber Alerts out and be able to have a good description of the child,” said Investigator Mark Taylor in a recent interview.

He added that the operation was only possible through a joint venture with the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (SOVIACA).

“They sent down five laptops, all of the fingerprint scanners, a webcam for the photos and all of the CD’s and envelopes.” Taylor said. “They gave us everything.”

He added that all of the information was directed back to the parents and not entered into any local or national database. A claim asserted by the SOVIACA website.

“Child ID Events provide parents with the opportunity to compile critical information about their child into an easy to access and easy to store format,” the website explains.  “Information about the child will be saved in an easy to read PDF format and burned onto a CD or DVD.  Once the parent or guardian is provided a copy of the CD the information is purged and no records are kept by the [SOVIACA].  We are not interested in building a database of children’s information, we are simply providing a service to the community by helping parents collect and organize important information about their child that they can easily access in the event of an emergency.”

Taylor added that the entire operation was provided free of charge to parents through state and federal grants provided to the state organization.

As for last week’s inaugural event, Taylor said it went “very well.”

“We worked at the elementary, intermediate and high school, fingerprinting over 500 children,” he said, adding that the process only took about 5 minutes per-child.

“The kids were great,” Taylor said. “Most of them had a good time with it. They thought it was really neat when they saw their fingerprint on the screen.”

He thanked school personnel, the students, parents and noted that it was through the hard work of both the educational staff and the sheriff’s office, under the guidance of Sheriff Douglas Bryant, that the event was possible. He hopes his office will be able to hold the finger printing every two years.

For more information on the project, visit  sovaicac.org or call the sheriff’s office at 804-333-3611.

Posted on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 8:00 am