Columbus Police, Sheriff's Office partner with Project Lifesaver

Grants help law enforcement locate 'wandering' Alzheimer's, Autism patients

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 11, 2014 

Columbus Police Cpl. Deborah Whitley attends training for use of Project Lifesaver's technology, which allows law enforcement to locate missing persons with disabilities within an average of 30 minutes.

TIFFANY STEVENS — tstevens@ledger-enquirer.com

Fifty percent of Alzheimer's or Autism patients who go missing for more than 24 hours won't make it home, officials say.

That's a problem Columbus Police and Muscogee County Sheriff's Office officials hope to solve through a recent partnership with Project Lifesaver International, a charity organization that provides technology to law enforcement agencies that can aid in search and rescue efforts.

"The basic premise of the program is to identify those people who are referred to as 'wanderers,' those people with special needs, and particularly Alzheimer's patients, who have a tendency to just walk out," said Gary Reynolds, a Project Lifesaver trainer.

Both the Columbus Police Department and the Sheriff's Office won a $5,000 grant through the charity to jump-start the project, which could help authorities and families locate participants within 30 minutes of their reported disappearance.

The program works by providing a patient with a wristband that has an attached locator. Police then use a receiver to dowse for the transmitter, which can has a radio wave signal that can be picked up within three miles.

Project Lifesaver has outfitted 1900 U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies with the technology, and some European and Asian countries have expressed interest in participating.

"Prior to this program, if someone is missing, really the only way that law enforcement or public safety had to search for these people was to send a bunch of officers, and it was hit or miss," Reynolds said.

Columbus Police officers sometimes spend entire shifts attempting to locate missing persons with disabilities, Administrative Services Maj. Wanna Barker-Wright said. The technology could help the police department not only save lives, but also save money.

"Our officers are really tied up a lot when we have a missing person," Barker-Wright said. "Last year we had 15 people that wandered off, and it tied up some officers a whole shift. And it's not just one officer, we had several that will go looking."

Both the Sheriff's Office and the Police Department are looking for partners that will help them bring the devices to families in need. While the $5000 grants allow each department two receivers and two transmitters, additional transmitters cost about $350.

"We're trying to get partners on with us to introduce them to the project," Barker-Wright said. "It's not only just Alzheimer's. We also have children with Autism that wander off and people with dementia."

Organizations interested in contributing funds to the local project can contact Administrative Services at (706) 653-3150.

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