It was the outcome everyone hoped for — on Saturday morning officers from the Quinte West detachment of the OPP found an elderly, vulnerable man with Alzheimer’s in safe condition after he wandered away from the Trenton home he shared with his wife.
A trained patrol officer using a portable radio receiver and antenna located the man 10 minutes after arriving at the man’s home, finding him less than a kilometre away.
Police credit the quick recovery to Project Lifesaver, a system which used radio frequency technology to pinpoint the man’s exact location.
The man was wearing a lightweight bracelet holds a radio transmitter that emits a unique tracking signal every second, 24 hours a day.
The program was launched in the U.S. in 1999 to help spouses and caregivers who have family members living at home with cognitive disabilities like Alzheimer’s or autism.
Pilot project a success, says Quinte OPP
Const. Matt Raycroft with the Quinte West OPP detachment in Trenton brought the idea to the local Alzheimer’s Society in 2015 — and the program was put into use in January 2016.
“The program is designed to get loved ones home in the best possible shape as quickly as possible to program the family with a piece of mind,” he said.
The detachment has about 10 front-line officers trained to use the equipment. One of them was called to the Trenton home on Saturday morning.
Raycroft said he’s not surprised the system was so successful. The technology has been around since World War II and the signal is reliable and strong, able to penetrate through buildings and wooded areas.
“It’s a top of the world experience — it was a success that we got someone home and back to their family in the safest possible condition,” said Raycroft.
Other municipalities partnering with local agencies
The Alzheimer’s Society of Hastings Prince-Edward, in which Quinte West is located, enrolls and administers the program.
“Obviously we are thrilled the client was found safe and I can’t even imagine the relief to the man’s family ” said the group’s CEO, Maureen Corrigan. “It’s our obligation as a society to keep people safe.”
Corrigan encourages governments and police forces across the province to investigate the benefits of Project Lifesaver.
“Governments are putting more money into dementia strategies to keep communities safe and it’s something they should look at it from a public policy point of view and compare it to a search where Projector Lifesaver isn’t used.”
Raycroft wouldn’t reveal the cost of a conventional search for a missing person but says calling in a trained police search-and-rescue team, canine units, a helicopter and drones is costly. Project Lifesaver might pre-empt the need for that.
The receiving equipment used by the OPP cost $14,000 and was paid for by the city of Quinte West through the Police Services Board.
The cost to clients to purchase the battery-operated bracelet is about $400 U.S. and families that need financial assistance to buy it can access money donated by several local service clubs in the Quinte West area.
Police forces in Windsor, Guelph, York and Peel have also partnered with local agencies to provide Project Lifesaver. But there is no such program in the city of Ottawa.
Not good fit for bigger city, says Ottawa officer
Sgt. Reno Rushford heads the missing person unit at the Ottawa Police Service. He said the force is aware of several kinds of tracking technology out there and it would be senior management that would make the decision about purchasing it. But Rushford isn’t convinced it would be a good fit.
“As far as the size of Ottawa we can’t take it with 2,600 people that go missing in a year,” said Rushford. “I would tend to want my resources looking for the people that are missing rather than sitting in a monitoring room waiting for a monitor to go off.”
Last week police had asked for the public’s help in locating 82-year-old Nelliya Karbisheva, who had been missing since the previous Sunday. But it wasn’t until Thursday that her body was found in a wooded area. Police did not suspect foul play.
Rushford said families can chose to have a tracking system on a family member’s phone or devices that fit into a shoe but he doesn’t think police should be endorsing one kind of technology.
“It shouldn’t be the police that go and push (tracking technology) out on the community. It should be the family that are caring for these elderly people, that if they do go missing, they’ve put in place things for us to track them.”
Rushford said a big part of the protocol when people go missing is putting out alerts to hospitals, taxi companies, OC Transpo and the media.
He said “having a lot of eyes” in the community is still the best way to find someone.