High tech tracking of missing Alzheimer's patients

Tuesday, September 9th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The Tulsa Police Department may soon have a hi-tech way of tracking and finding missing Alzheimer’s patients.

It's a radio transmitter bracelet the patients wear that should help officers find them in minutes, rather than hours or days. News on Six crime reporter Lori Fullbright explains how it works.

Despite massive police hunts, more than one Alzheimer’s patient who's wandered away from home in Tulsa has died. Preston Simmons left his home last summer. Police later found his body at an auto salvage, where he'd crawled inside a car.

Another woman left her home and was hit by a car before a search even got underway. Project Lifesaver says it can change those stories to ones with happy endings. It's a transmitter bracelet the person wears and a receiver that police can carry during searches or even up in a chopper that will pinpoint the person's location within minutes.

Tulsa Police Captain Tracie Crocker, "Each transmitter has its own frequency so if they'll wear it, we'll find them." 11-year-old Darrell Steele is a special needs child who wandered away from home twice last year. It took more than 540 man-hours of searching to find him, each time he was safe, but each time it was an anxious night for him, his father and officers. "It costs a lot for searches and if we save just one person, it will be worth it, in my opinion."

Captain Crocker is applying for $50,000 in grant money to purchase the equipment so Tulsa can trade old-fashioned search methods for hi-tech ones. Tulsa would be the first city in Oklahoma to have this project. 26 other cities in the US currently have it and they say the average amount of time it takes to return someone safely to home is just 22 minutes.

The police department hopes with the community and police working together, all future search stories will end in happy homecomings. The Alzheimer’s Association says it won't endorse project save lives because it's going to create its own tracking system that could be available in a year or so.

If Tulsa Police receive the grant money, its program will begin after the first of the year.