By Kathy Jefcoats
Jonesboro police added another tool to what already is in place to help find missing children, or endangered adults who wander away from home.
This tool is free.
The department joined a growing number of agencies, who participate in "A Child is Missing," a program that makes automated alert calls within a certain radius of where a person has gone missing. There is no cost for participation.
"We have a lot of elderly in Jonesboro, and some with Alzheimer's who walk away, and of course, kids who run away," said Sgt. Eric Bradshaw. "We hope this will be more effective in finding them as soon as possible."
When a person is reported missing and police have established the person cannot immediately be found, information about the person is sent through the call system.
"We use the location where the person went missing from, and branch out a certain distance from there, using guidelines estimating about how far that person would travel on foot, based on their age, and the length of time they've been gone," Bradshaw said.
The system can make 1,000 calls in 10 seconds, making it one of the fastest ways to reach a large number of people. Residents are given description information and are asked to look around their own property for the missing person. Messages are left, if the calls are not answered.
"It is proven to work, and we hope it will bring a quicker response to finding the missing and bringing them back home safely," said Bradshaw.
Residents with unlisted, or cell numbers, can register to be contacted through the system, too. Based on local law enforcement's request, the calls can go out in different languages.
Agencies that handle sex offender registries can sign up to have neighbors called when a convicted offender moves into their area. Local jails can register to send alerts when there is an escape.
Bradshaw said the program would have been helpful, recently, when a local woman with mental disabilities went missing.
"We found her the hard way, at the Henry Medical Center," he said. "If we had had this in place, we may have been more successful in getting her home before she went too far. It is fortunate that it turned out for the best."
The system is not meant to replace Amber Alert, Mattie's Call or Levi's Call, but to enhance what is available. Those three systems use broadcast media to alert the public when a child, or endangered adult, goes missing.
In Forest Park, police use Code Red, a reverse 911 call system, and the services of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Maj. Chris Matson said both programs work well.
"Code Red can make calls for missing children, but does other things, too, so we have that to cover it all, and it has worked for us," he said. For example, Code Red can alert residents to any dangerous situation in the city, such as a gas leak.
He said the national center also helped to return a missing child about a year ago. The center generated posters of the child, which put her face out in the public. Someone saw the poster and immediately led police to her whereabouts.