Crime - Sacto 911

How wearing radio transmitters helps vulnerable people who wander

Garry Murphy holds a miniature transmitter designed to be worn by dementia patients or others who might be prone to wandering off. Aug. 30, 2012.
Garry Murphy holds a miniature transmitter designed to be worn by dementia patients or others who might be prone to wandering off. Aug. 30, 2012. Hilton Head Island Packet

Folsom police are using wearable radio transmitters to help return vulnerable people who wander to their loved ones, the Folsom Police Department announced.

Folsom police in June joined Project Lifesaver, a nationwide initiative that works with law enforcement to help track at-risk people such those with Alzheimer’s disease or developmental disabilities. Residents who opt in to the free program get a bracelet that transmits location information to police. If a bracelet wearer goes missing, family members or other caretakers concerned about the person’s whereabouts can call 911 to ask for help.

“We have more freedom to go out, peace of mind,” said Yasmin Vilchez, a Folsom resident who uses the new program for her son, in a video that Folsom police posted on Facebook.

“I sleep better,” she said.

Folsom police are not the first to deploy the tracking technology. The Sacramento Police Department announced its participation in Project Lifesaver in March, and the Citrus Heights Police Department has been using the initiative’s devices for years.

According to Project Lifesaver’s website, the program cuts the time it takes public safety agencies to find wandering individuals by 95 percent, to an average of just 30 minutes after a person’s absence is reported.

Sgt. Andrew Bates, Folsom Police Department spokesman, said the department raised about $11,000 to buy the technology necessary for the program. The money came from both the department and private donations, he said.

Bates said that the department has about 20 bracelets and has signed up seven people to use them so far. Police could purchase more equipment if demand is high enough, he said.

“The devices that we use to track down the people who wander are more expensive than the radio transmitters that they wear, and that’s the big hurdle for an agency to get started on a program like this,” Bates said.

Since April 2015, the Folsom Police Department has fielded about 100 calls for help with missing at-risk people, according to the department’s Facebook video.

The department gives out the bracelets, which can be worn on the wrist or ankle, on a first-come, first-serve basis. Participants must live in Folsom, have a history of wandering and have diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Down syndrome or similar conditions.

Residents can email the Police Department about the program at projectlifesaver@folsom.ca.us.

Hannah Knowles: 916-321-1141, @KnowlesHannah

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