The FBI is releasing its very first app, free, to the public. The "FBI Child ID" app allows parents to store their kid's photo, height and weight in one easy-to-retrieve place and to forward this info instantaneously to the authorities. It was developed, according to the FBI's website, to put "Safety in Your Hands."
After all, the site notes, "a child goes missing every 40 seconds"; that's 765,000 a year. "Many never return home."
My question: Does the FBI read its own statistics? Because I do. And those show that about 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year. Of these, 50 are murdered. We live in a country of about 60 million children age 15 or younger. So the idea that "many" children never return home makes sense, if by "many" the FBI means fewer than one in 1 million. And though perhaps a child goes missing once every 40 seconds (I know I went missing when I hid in the closet as a tot), one goes missing permanently because of a stranger abduction once a week.
Of course, even once a week is terrible. Heart-stopping. No one ever would say otherwise. But by offering this app to America, the FBI is reinforcing the idea that children are in constant danger. It feels as if the FBI has raced to fill a need that doesn't exist while fueling a fear that's already out of control. Maybe even at FBI headquarters.
Because, as the FBI should know better than anyone, the crime rate is lower now than it was when most of today's parents were kids. It just doesn't feel safer when the nation's top crime agency is telling parents that children are disappearing, perhaps forever, all day long. That is the kind of fear that makes parents think they can't ever let their kids out of their sight.
What is the downside to this app? I mean, it is nice to have a photo of your child available, if only so the pretzel lady at the mall can say, "Oh, your little boy is just on the other side of the kiosk!"
But the app comes with a tie to the National Child ID Program, which provides a physical kit to gather a child's pictures, fingerprints, personal characteristics and DNA "to keep with you in case of emergency." What kind of emergency would that be?
Well, it's not the kind when your kid is goofing around on the other side of the pretzel kiosk. It's the kind when your kid's body is decomposing.
Even granting that this app may indeed be helpful in some very rare worst-case scenarios -- turning it into just a handy-dandy thing you'd want to carry with you, the parental equivalent of a jack -- makes it feel as if murdered children are as common as flat tires. The consequences of that dread are real: kids cooped up at home to be "safe" from everything except obesity, depression, diabetes, heart disease -- all the un-Nancy Grace dangers that don't get a lot of air time.
And isn't it possible that rather than keep kids safe from predators, the app ties up the authorities with 799,950 cases of kids hiding in the closet?
I try not to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to kid-safety products because I love some of them -- for example, safety belts and helmets. But when the product's benefits seem slim and the societal repercussions loom large, I say: Keep a photo of your kids in your wallet, and go about your day, folks. And FBI?
Get a grip.