New legislation proposed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) would provide millions in grant funding to A Child Is Missing, a nonprofit organization that specializes in rapid response telephone system alerts about missing children and senior citizens.
This would be the third time the Democratic senator proposed this legislation. Previously, it passed in the House of Representatives but was blocked in the Senate.
“It is a small amount of money with a tremendous impact,” Menendez said Monday during a press conference at Burlington County College.
A Child Is Missing, a Florida-based group that became nationwide in 2007, provides police departments with a free service—phone calls made to at least 1,000 households and businesses within the radius of where a child or elderly person was reported missing.
The group said it has been a part of 890 safe recoveries, and the average time a person is found is 60 minutes.
To use the service, a law enforcement official calls an 800 number and provides information on the child or senior citizen—hair color, age, clothing, place seen last, etc.
Within minutes, an automated phone call is made alerting neighbors and business owners there has been a missing person reported and a number to call with any information.
After the senator touted the alert program, a training session was held at BCC’s Laurel Hall and dozens of South Jersey law enforcement officers and chiefs listened to Mark Brey, a trainer with the organization, educate them on the program.
“As law enforcement become aware of these tools, we keep growing and growing,” Brey said.
Det. Sgt. Bernie Lettman, with the Ocean County Sherriff’s Department, said this is the first time he’s heard of the program.
“I think that would be a great tool and a great program,” he said.
The program would be especially beneficial in his county, Lettman said, since there are several senior citizens villages in that area.
Gloucester Township Police Department recently signed up for this free service—and about two weeks ago, reaped the benefits.
A 94-year-old man left his home and calls were made to homes and businesses in the Camden County town. A resident who received the message called police back to say she saw a man who fit the same description get on a bus.
The man was found in Pennsauken, safe.
“Fortunately, it was resolved very quickly,” said Harry Earle, Gloucester Township police chief.
The township is home to about 64,000 people, and the police department there already use a system called Global Connect to broadcast messages to its residents. But, they called on the “expertise” of A Child Is Missing for that added support.
“We’ve revamped our entire missing person’s protocol and we feel [this program] has the expertise.”
It saved the township, the chief said, from calling on other officers to do a wooded search and possibly use other sources.
“It’s saving money as well,” Earle said.
Collingswood Police Department currently does not use this program, said Chief Richard Sarlo.
Though Sarlo nor any other borough police representative attended the meeting, Sarlo did say he's familiar with the service and is considering using it.
"We don't get a lot of these (missing persons) calls," said Sarlo. "But it's nice to have a service and not need it, than need a service and not have it. So we're looking into it."
Funding for the program comes from grants and other funds. Sherry Friedlander, founder and CEO of A Child Is Missing, said the $5 million grant proposed by Menendez would mean a lot.
“It would mean we could expand further into every state,” she said.
The group started in 1997 but it took 10 years to get into every state. The grant also would help fund more educational programs for law enforcement officials—exactly what went on at BCC Monday.
“We are going to save lives because what we do works so great,” Friedlander said.