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NCSO gets grant for Project Lifesaver

COVINGTON -- Sheriff Ezell Brown has announced the Newton County Sheriff's Office received a grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance to implement the Project Lifesaver International Program. The grant will provide start-up equipment to implement the program and on-site training for deputies. No matching funds are required.

Project Lifesaver is a program that aids the victims and families suffering with Alzheimer's Disease, dementia and related disorders that could cause victims to wander or become unable to find their way home. When that happens, law enforcement is charged with searching for the victims.

Now, those victims in Newton County can avail themselves of the services of Project Lifesaver.

"Sheriff Ezell Brown and the Sheriff's Office are exploring new ways to assist these individuals who are affected by this condition that causes wandering behaviors," said NCSO spokesman Cpl. Anthony Washington. "Hopefully, this program will ease some of the frustrations families experience when their loved one wanders off."

Washington said those in danger of becoming lost would wear a bracelet that transmits a signal specific to that person. Deputies would have a receiver that when activated can track the individual and bring them safely home.

"There have been cases here in Newton County where individuals wander off," Washington said. "Normally, we would put out a lookout, or BOLO, on that individual and gather information on what they were wearing, a description of the person and begin canvassing the area. Time is of the essence in a situation like that. This would reduce the amount of time finding the person would take, as well as the amount of personnel used."

The Rockdale County Sheriff's Office has been using the system for about five years, and according to Lt. Mike Sellers has found it to be very efficient.

"The most citizens we've had on the program is about 12, and right now we have nine," he said. "We've been very fortunate. We've only had one track ... that person left in a vehicle and we found it about a mile from the home. We were then able to locate that person on foot in about 15 minutes. For citizens with Alzheimer's or dementia, this is the real deal."

Sellers said everyone has heard horror stories of the sick or elderly wandering away from home in cold temperatures or in dangerous areas and searchers being unable to find them though they were actually very close to home.

"With this, it has a range of 1 mile. The transmitter is about the size of a wrist watch and each one has its own individual frequency and it emits a signal about once a second," he said. "We train deputies to start at the last known place the person was seen, ride that perimeter and keep it up until a signal is picked up. Then they go on foot and start tracking."

Sellers said nationwide, the average time it takes to locate an individual using Project Lifesaver is 20 minutes. He said training for deputies to begin using the equipment lasts two days and Rockdale County currently has 20 deputies as well as members of the RCSO Auxiliary who are certified to use it.

"I'm excited that Newton County is participating in this," Sellers said, adding that he had talked with Sheriff Brown about the merits of the program when he decided to pursue it.

Washington said the NCSO has not yet begun implementation of program, but expects to have it up and running within the next several months.

"(We) will work collaboratively with the Newton County Senior Services." Washington said. "We'll be incorporating information about this in our community outreach efforts, as well as informing citizens through media outlets."