WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Master Cpl. Christopher Gigliotti pointed a metal contraption in front of himself, scanning across a vast parking lot with hundreds of vehicles.
He and Officer First Class Jon Adams listened intently, as the machine’s slow beep, beep, beep grew louder when he pointed a bit to the left.
They walked several yards in that direction, stopped and swept again, then repeated the process, always walking toward where louder beeps let them know they were getting warmer, getting warmer.
Moments later, beeping was loud, clear and fast, letting them know their search was at an end.
“Found her!” Gigliotti said, letting other officers know the search was a success.
Who they found was Master Cpl. Karen E. Crowley, sitting in an SUV.
But, Crowley said, they could have been searching for someone’s lost child or grandparent.
The search was part of training for Project Lifesaver, a nonprofit New Castle County Police Department program designed to help find people who are prone to wandering.
The county program started small-scale five years ago and now has eight clients - from pre-teens to folks in their 80s - who might roam for reasons from autism to Alzheimer’s, said Crowley, its administrator.
But investment in an equipment upgrade and training last week by Project Lifesaver International instructor Gary Reynolds, the retired police chief of Winchester, Virginia, have positioned the program to grow.
“Right now, we’re the only agency in Delaware that is Project Lifesaver certified,” Crowley said, adding, “now, we’re all trained as instructors.”
In addition to an unlimited number of new clients - whose families pay an initial $300 equipment fee and nominal yearly costs to replace transmitter wristbands and batteries - Crowley the program also is ready to partner with other public safety organizations to train their personnel and grow the service.
All enrolled families have to do is check batteries daily, log those checks and quickly call 911 if their loved ones wander, she said.
“This is proactive policing and community policing at its best,” Reynolds said. “New Castle County police are on the cutting edge.”
Project Lifesaver International, founded in 1999 in Virginia, has grown to have programs in all states except Idaho and Colorado, along with Canada and Australia, he said, noting officials in Japan, France, Italy and Great Britain have invited the project to start programs there.
Existing programs have conducted 2,380 searches for lost clients - every one a success, he said. Typically, those saves take less than 30 minutes.
In the one Delaware search, the missing person was an 80-year-old man with Alzheimer’s who walked away from his Newark-area home, said Officer First Class Tom Jackson, a county police public information officer.
In addition to the search by the man’s individual Project Livesaver radio transmitter’s frequency, he said, police also alerted other forces and used the reverse-911 telephone system to alert residents of his area.
The Project Lifesaver radio transmitter the man was wearing led police to find him quickly at a business several miles from his home, Jackson said.
The transmitters are 1-inch black discs that can be worn on wrist or ankle bands - or even tied in a child’s shoelaces, he said.
People ask why they don’t use GPS. Although GPS is great for maps, he said, it requires no overhead obstruction, so it can’t locate people who wander into vehicles or buildings.
GPS would not have found Crowley in the parking lot, he said, “but radio did.”
That search by Gigliotti and Adams took less than 3 minutes, Reynolds said, adding that a car-by-car search would have taken hours and dozens of officers.
Training also included helping officers learn to communicate better with clients whose conditions may include brain injury, Down syndrome or developmental issues, he said.
Crowley said the program, one of several safety efforts by the county police Community Services Unit, wants to help more people as it lives up to the Project Lifesaver slogan, “Bringing loved ones home safe.”
Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com
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