When Cortland police were called at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 5 to find a missing 81 year-old man who was last seen around 5:45 p.m. walking toward Church Street near the Imperial Motel, police could have spent the whole night searching.
Instead, learning that the man participated in the Project Lifesaver program, the police department called the Cortland County sheriff’s office, which found him in an hour, a mile away on Homer Avenue near Fairgrounds Drive.
This was just another successful use of the program, said Cortland County sheriff’s Lt. Garry Williams.
“It’s been very successful,” he said. “I haven’t heard of any cases where we haven’t been able to locate the person” with it.
The program, run under the non-profit organization Project Lifesaver International, works to locate people who are vulnerable to wandering off, said Samantha Rush, the organization’s public relations and social media coordinator. These include young children, people with mental disabilities and the elderly.
The at-risk person wears a bracelet that sends out a radio signal that police agencies with the equipment and training can use to track and locate the person.
Detachable antennas can also be put on vehicles to help pick up the signal.
The person though is only tracked when contacted by the caretaker or family member when the person is reported missing.
The program can help reduce the amount of time to find a missing person from a few hours to an hour or less.
“Basically, we’re limiting any trouble they could get into,” Rush said.
About 35 agencies in New York take part, she said.
The Cortland County Area Agency on Aging also participates in the program through a partnership with the sheriff’s office, said Pam Miller, an aging services coordinator.
The Cortland County Sheriff’s Office has participated in it since 2006, Williams said.
The city police department is now considering implementing it, said Chief F. Michael Catalano.
To learn more
For questions on the program or to participate, call the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office at 607-758-5599 or the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging at 607-753-5060.
The program has typically been used more by sheriff’s offices, he said, perhaps in part because they cover a larger jurisdiction, though he wasn’t specifically sure.
While it has been a useful tool for finding people, there have been cases where the system was activated but the person took their bracelet off, leading deputies to find abandoned bracelets, Williams said.
In those cases, deputies used more traditional tactics of locating people including searching the area or calling for assistance from groups trained to find lost people like forest rangers or firefighters.
For the case of the old man wandering last week, sheriff’s deputies used the antenna attachment to find him walking down the street, said sheriff’s Officer Michael Hall, who helped find the man unharmed.
“He was just happy to see us and happy to go back home,” Hall said.