MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The Myrtle Beach Police Department wants to add a tool to help lifeguards and beach patrol officers know exactly where lost children came from after wandering away from their families on the beach.
The department is looking to start a lost child program, which could include offering wristbands for children to wear that correspond with the lifeguard stand or area where their family is located.
Hopes are this will minimize the time between a child becoming lost and being brought back to where they're supposed to be.
This is one of several initiatives the department is proposing to enhance beach safety this year. Other ideas include including putting off-duty officers on the beach during peak hours, and adding patrols from the ocean using jet skis or small boats.
At last week's budget retreat, MBPD Chief Warren Gall said children are usually found before they're even reported missing, but then officers or lifeguards don't know where their parents are until they file a report.
The wristbands would eliminate that gap time to allow whoever found the child to know where to take him or her to reunite with family members.
Gall said the program will also give officers more of an opportunity to interact with children on the beach and educate them about staying safe.
"If we have coloring books for water safety, we're able to give those out," he said. "We want to do the same community policing kind of opportunities that we have on the street, as we can have down on the beach."
Myrtle Beach's lost child program still has to go through the approval process.
North Myrtle Beach has a similar wristband program that has been in place for years. There, lifeguards hand out 4,000 wristbands every year for children to wear in case they get split up from their families, said Josh Stevens, public safety officer and lifeguard coordinator for the NMB Beach Patrol
"Lifeguards are pretty good at spotting kids that are off by themselves that look out of place," Stevens said. "They can usually grab them, talk to them real quick, and get them back to the area before the parents even realize that they're gone."
Stevens said as many as 30 children go missing a day during the busy season.
"They don't realize until they first get out here, especially newer people that come in, how easy it is to lose a kid," he said. "People think, well how does that happen, but it happens every day."
More than 200 children were reported missing and found between July and September 2015, and May through June 2016.
However, that figure doesn't include every lost child because some are reunited with their families before the situation even gets reported. That's due to the wristbands.
"They can, with limited communications, figure out at least the area they're supposed to be in, which a lot of times, that'll solve a case before that even comes up," Stevens said. "It's been a big help with that."
Stevens added he thinks it's great Myrtle Beach is considering adopting a similar program.
"Anything to help find kids that are missing faster or alleviate it or keep it from happening in general, it's all positive," he said.
Stevens said many families already know about the wristbands from previous vacations, so they'll go up to the nearby lifeguard stand to ask for them.
North Myrtle Beach lifeguards also go up to families on the beach and offer wristbands for their children to wear in case they don't know about the program.