In the wake of the recent child abductions in Dayton, Webster City Police Chief Brian Hughes said it's important for parents to talk to their children about personal safety.
Hughes said how involved parents get in their child's personal safety depends on several factors, including their age, education and developmental level. Setting boundaries based on those factors, such as where a child goes to play and who they visit can help. Hughes said parents should know where their children are at any given time, and cell phones can assist greatly with that.
"To be able to pick up the phone and know where your son or daughter is at is important," Hughes said.
Listening to children is also an important part of their safety. Listening to what they say about who their friends are and what places they go to informs a parent about their whereabouts. Hughes said that friends add an extra element of security, as people traveling in groups are harder to target.
Personal safety skills are important for parents to teach their children, because Hughes said a child is more likely to put their trust in a parent over their teachers or neighbors. As such, it's important to teach them about the things people often do when they try and abduct a child.
Many potential abductees are approached in a vehicle. Hughes said to teach children to stay away from vehicles, and not to approach if they offer any kind of incentive including candy, money or any other type of reward.
He also urged caution when putting a child's name on their clothing, lunchbox or backpack when they go to school. While the practice can help a teacher discern a child's possessions, a prominently displayed name can offer a predator an inroad to talking with a child by knowing their name.
Additionally, Hughes recommends that parents have a kit at home that contains a complete description of their child. Items to include in the kit might include a description of their hair, physical features, fingerprints, a DNA sample, medical records and dental charts. All of these items can be used by law enforcement officials to identify a person.
There are also several things to consider that can help a police identify a person who has attempted an abduction. If someone sees a potential or occurring abduction, Hughes said to get as full of a description of the abductor and the vehicle as possible.
In addition to trying to identify a person by their physical features, Hughes said taking notice of how many people are in the vehicle, how tall the person or people are if they get out of their car, and a clothing description can help discern a person to law enforcement officials. A description of the vehicle, including color, make, model, and license plate can identify a vehicle to officials as well. Most importantly, Hughes a good question to ask yourself in such a situation is what makes that vehicle unique.
"We've had situations where someone might have noticed an orange bumper sticker or a cracked windshield," Hughes said. "Those details can help us identify a vehicle much faster."
Hughes said he hopes and prays that Kathlynn Shepard, the 15-year-old from Dayton who is still missing, is found alive and well.