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Glendale police are employing devices aimed to bring missing family members home

Glendale police are employing devices aimed to bring missing family members home
Officers show off a mobile receiver used in tracking down people who are enrolled in Project Lifesaver. (Courtesy of the Glendale Police Department)

The Glendale Police Department hopes a wearable piece of technology can help reduce the time it takes to locate a missing person diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or with other forms of cognitive disorder.

For the past year, the department has partnered with nonprofit group Project Lifesaver to provide tracking devices to families with members who suffer from cognitive issues such as dementia or autism. In case the relative wanders away, the device would help track them down within minutes rather than hours.

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"It's a partnership between the police department and the family," Glendale Police Sgt. Traci Fox said. "We're not making any money off of this."

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Fox, who helps run the program, said the money the department receives for each tracker is then used to buy an additional device. She said 15 people are currently enrolled in the program.

About the size of a wristwatch, the trackers can be placed on a person's ankles or wrists. Participation costs $375 for the first year and $100 for each subsequent year in order to maintain the device.

Rather than use a GPS signal to help track participants, the devices utilize radio frequencies that can be tracked by two mobile receivers the department uses. Fox said the success of the program hinges on families reporting a person missing as soon as possible.

"The tendency is that the family goes out looking for their loved one," she said. "The technology works best when there's an immediate notification that someone has gone missing."

As soon as police are told, officers are dispatched with the receivers to locate the missing person. According to Fox, four people have been successfully found within minutes of being reported missing since the program started.

She said the water-resistant trackers are meant to be worn 24 hours a day and are placed in a way that makes them difficult to remove. The first couple of days enrolled in the program are meant as an adjustment period to get used to the tracker.

Out of the 15 participants, Fox said only one person has made any attempt to remove their device.

However, she said the trackers shouldn't be seen as the end-all solution to deal with a wandering relative. Fox said families should have an overall plan in place such as hiring a caregiver to monitor a relative around the clock or installing motion sensors on doors to keep track of people leaving the home.

"This should not just be the one device that you need," she said. "You need to have a couple of things in play."

For more information about the program, contact Fox at (818) 937-8702 or tfox@glendaleca.gov.

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Andy Nguyen, andy.nguyen@latimes.com

Twitter: @Andy_Truc

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