Good Ink

The scene: Volunteers with the Orange County Volunteer Center and Orange Police Department helped fingerprint children during a Labor Day weekend international street fair in Orange.

For safety sake: Wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with the Vol- unteer Center logo, helpers such as Megan Nelson of Orange, 23, a Cal State Fullerton student, mingled with passersby, inviting parents to bring their children to a booth for fingerprinting. "Parents are going for it--it's free!" Nelson said.

Greg and Jennifer Kosek of Tustin brought 1-month-old Tiffany to the booth, where her tiny feet were laid upon a black-ink pad, pressed firmly, then gently cleaned by volunteers for the Orange Police. "They will do her fingerprints when she's a little older," Jennifer explained. "I hope we never have to use this--but we feel it's good to have it on record."

Keeping a record: Finger- printing children is a helpful way to identify them in emergencies, said Deborah Klein, a crime-prevention specialist who coordinates a volunteer program for the Orange Police Department.

"It's not that we're concerned so much that the child will become missing or taken away from his parents. It's more for the child who falls from a bicycle, hits his head and doesn't remember who he is or what day it is. A parent with fingerprint identification can go to a hospital and claim their child."

Fingerprint identification can also be a crime deterrent, Klein said. "If people know a child has been fingerprinted, they will be less likely to take them or try to change their identity. A child's fingerprints are unique--they are their own. Finger- printing also gives a child security," Klein added. "They know Mom and Dad will have a means to find them."

Crime prevention: In addition to fingerprinting, Klein said, parents can follow these steps to protect their young children:

* Outfit them with ID bracelets, available from school districts.

* Teach them about their surroundings, so they know where they live. Give them the name of a neighbor they can go to.

* Teach them their phone number and what to do if they get separated from you.

* Never leave a child unattended in a car.

* Teach them not to be afraid to say "No!" to a stranger or older child. Teach them it's OK to turn around--go the other direction when they are confronted by a stranger.

Volunteer spirit: Volunteers from the Orange County Volunteer Center were part of the center's Vital (Volunteers in Teams Acting Locally) group--people who volunteer twice a month for community projects. "It's a great way for people who don't have [a lot of] time to join a special group to do something for their community," said Fran Mulvania, center spokeswoman.

For information: The Volunteer Center, call: (714) 953-5757, Ext. 108. The Orange Police Department fingerprinting program: (714) 744-7328.

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