Cape Elizabeth police add tool to identify wanderers

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CAPE ELIZABETH — At the request of parents of children with special needs, the Police Department has created a database of individuals prone to wandering.

Police held an open house Nov. 8 for residents to sign up relatives who have wandered or ran away in the past, or who could do so in the future. 

“There were some parents of kids with special needs and disabilities who came forward and asked,” Community Liaison Officer David Galvan said. “That was the first thing that sparked my interest in this.”

Residents can sign up their family members at any time by going to the police station or completing an online form. Galvan said the database is for anyone with a developmental disability, autism, Alzheimer’s, dementia, or mental instability.

“It’s open for anyone that has a tendency to wander,” he said.

As of Wednesday, Galvan said 11 people were registered in the database: 10 children and one elderly person. Galvan said there have been about four or five instances of people who have wandered and gone missing in Cape Elizabeth over the past few years.

Registering someone requires submitting a photo of the individual as well as providing a physical description. Police also ask for known triggers that may upset the person, and known calmers to make the person feel at ease when found.

Galvan said he would also like to eventually provide access to the database to the emergency dispatch center in Portland. He said this could be useful even if a person wasn’t wandering, but had an outburst or was acting out and a call was placed to 911. He said the information in the database would help police better understand how to handle the situation.

Galvan said each police officer will be able to access the database from the computer in their patrol car, rather than having to spend time driving back to the station to look up information.

“It would cut down valuable time so we can find the person who’s wandering,” Galvan said. “With something like this, every second counts.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.