A program is using tracking technology to locate people who are prone to getting lost in Framingham, Massachusetts -- home to one of the state's largest populations of residents with dementia. And now it's free, thanks in part to a federal grant.
Participants with Alzheimer's, dementia, autism and other cognitive conditions can wear a wristband with batteries that last for six months at a time. If the person is reported missing, police say they can locate them faster when using SafetyNet Tracking Systems technology.
“It is the best piece of equipment I’ve seen in my 27 years of law-enforcement,” officer Keith Strange said. "It hasn't failed us. And the other thing is that the officers have confidence in the equipment when they go out there."
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The program has already been adopted by 100 departments across Massachusetts,and the technology is compatible with state police helicopters. Officers can pick up the radio frequency signal from up to a mile away on foot, a quarter-mile away in a cruiser, seven miles by air and 18 feet under water.
"These will go right through water, brick, all sorts of things," Sgt. Ryan Porter said. "I’ve actually never seen a technology quite like this."
People have been using the program for years in Framingham, but participation has been lagging. That's why the department decided to successfully apply for a grant from the Department of Justice, according to Porter.
"We just have a very high need for this type of technology here in the city. We were down under 10 people signed up for the program, and the biggest factor was cost," he said.
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The bracelets cost around $200 upfront, plus a monthly $25 subscription. But the federal money is now covering patient costs and paying to train about a third of the department to ensure that at least one certified officer is always on staff.
Strange, who has has been running the SafetyNet annual training program at the department since 2015, was leading indoor-outdoor training sessions over the weekend at Framingham High School. The search and rescue drills included a drone, K-9 units and the emergency operations team.
"A traditional search might take 60 to 90 minutes to find somebody -- if they’re ever found at all," Porter said. "With these devices, we’ll find them in under 20 minutes."
Framingham police said they are hoping more people sign up for the program now that it's free.
“We don’t want these 170 devices at the police station -- we want them out in the community where they belong," Deputy Chief Sean Riley said.