When a person with special needs goes missing, police need to gather information before they begin their search.
But a new program the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department is implementing will eliminate that first step and, Sheriff Kevin Callahan hopes, help his department more effectively find those at a higher risk for wandering off or getting lost.
The Grundy County Sheriff’s Police Lost Alert Program, which Callahan expects will be up and running within the next two weeks, will be a database of people with “developmental disabilities or a higher-than-usual risk of wandering off or becoming lost.”
Such people include those with autism, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Using information volunteered by participating families or caretakers, the database will include a person’s physical description, relevant medical conditions, and places the individual could be found, as well as a current photograph. Within seconds of being notified of a missing person, according to Callahan, deputies will have access to the person’s file.
Having this information, Callahan said, would streamline the locating process and allow responders to search more quickly and more effectively.
“Currently, finding [a person with special needs] would be no different than any other missing person investigation,” Callahan said. “But now, if we do get someone who wandered off or got lost, the deputy can just pull up their information. It gives us a headstart.”
“It’s more proactive,” added Callahan. “I think it’s a great program and a great tool.”
Developed in response to concerns from community members, the program is based on the Illinois Premise Alert Program Act of 2009, which allows information to be submitted to public agencies for use in locating missing persons.
The project was researched by Sgt. Tanya Paquette, whom Callahan said deserves “a lot of credit” for the program’s development.
Guardians can opt into the program by filling out a form, which can be found at area schools, senior communities, Morris Hospital, and on the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department website. The form asks for information that could help locate the missing person.
Callahan emphasized the program is optional and the information provided will be kept confidential and used only for locating purposes.
“I hope we never need it,” he said. “But it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
“It’s a good tool I hope our people never have to use.”