New tracking device to help police track missing dementia patients

Anthony Palmer's 16-year-old son has the mental capacity of a small child and he wanders from their Dekalb County home a lot.

He was grateful when Dekalb Police recently gave him a Project Lifesaver tracking device that helps him keep an eye on his son.

"About four days ago, I was in the office and he ran away and I didn't know that until it started beeping loud. I looked on my camera and saw he had walked all the way to the bushes," said Palmer. "This is so much better because sometimes we look for him for hours, sometimes eight hours and we find him at train stations," Palmer added.

DeKalb County Police Detective Joseph Francisco said the device could potentially be a lifesaver for missing Alzheimer's and Dementia patients and others who tend to wander from home.

"It's about the size of a wrist watch. It can be placed on the ankle or the wrist depending on their preference. This particular antenna can track to up to a mile away, but be we have additional antennas and additional resources that can get us much further and a much greater distance," said the SVU detective.

Two thousand people were reported missing in DeKalb County last year. Captain Theodore Golden said more than 100 had Alzheimer's, dementia or some other cognitive disorder. Those searches often take hours and require lots of manpower. Project Lifesaver, he said, should cut the search time down to an hour or less for the 40 officers trained to use the system.

"Most of the time that people go missing or go wandering, they're within that mile. They don't go too far outside of that zone. So we're heading to that location with that antenna on top and we'll be able to pick them up within a mile or a half a mile," said Captain Golden.

An added benefit, Golden said, early and personal interaction with the DeKalb Officers and the person wearing the device.

"We get to go out and meet them and know how they operate and they can get to know us and we can get to know them so that the first time they see us, it won't be the first time they're seeing that law enforcement officer," said Captain Golden.

Seventeen families have already received the Project Lifesaver tracking devices. A DKPD spokeswoman said at least 30 more are available at no cost to families whose loved ones meet certain mental health criteria.

To learn how to qualify for a device, call DeKalb County Police at 770-724-7710.