PORTLAND — Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Schnupp does not often track Teddy bears.
The one he found Sept. 14 outside the Cumberland County Jail proved a point.
The bear wore a bracelet transmitting FM radio signals to a receiver Schnupp carried while demonstrating Project Lifesaver, a national program new to the Sheriff’s Office.
“This program is designed to help locate individuals that, due to cognitive issues, have a tendency to wander away from their safety zones,” Sheriff Kevin Joyce said in a press conference before Schnupp’s search.
Schnupp will coordinate the program open to residents of Cumberland County, including communities with their own law enforcement.
Police departments in Brunswick, Scarborough, Lewiston and Ogunquit already offer the transmitters as part of a multi-faceted approach to helping people in their most vulnerable circumstances without heightening their anxiety.
The transmitters, available for $250, send signals that can be traced from 3 miles away, and work underwater.
Families or guardians requesting the transmitter are also required to fill out a profile of the person wearing one, including photos, medical histories and potential triggers that could lead to seizures or crises.
All the information and photos will be loaded into a database that can be viewed on the onboard computers in Sheriff’s Office vehicles.
Schnupp will meet with clients, their families and caregivers for training. They will also be required to test the transmitters daily and keep a log of test results. Schnupp will then visit monthly for free battery changes and maintenance.
Families and caregivers must also commit to calling 911 immediately if a client goes missing.
“Immediate notification is extremely important so that we can get resources and this tool to the scene as quickly as possible,” Joyce said.
Scarborough Police Officer Doug Weed said his department has distributed four bracelets as part of its Special Needs outreach.
“It allows us all to effectively communicate with a person with special needs, to try to lower the anxiety level as best as possible in a stressful situation,” Weed said Sept. 14.
Joyce said his interest in Project Lifesaver was piqued because his brother-in-law had Alzheimer’s disease and wandered away from his family.
Weed said a search for an autistic child led to developing the profiling program five years ago. Scarborough police added the bracelets about two years after that.
“After I found the kid, I said ‘oh my God, how are we going to communicate with these kids?’” Weed said. The approach allows tracking that can find someone in less than 30 minutes and approach them in a manner that will not exacerbate the crisis with bright lights or barking dogs.
The receivers can be programmed for any designated bracelet frequency, allowing for searches by any participating agencies. Weed said some funding from the nonprofit Project Lifesaver has helped pay for bracelets, and Joyce is hoping for some community assistance so cost will not be a consideration for anyone in need.
“You never know when one of your loved ones will come down with dementia,” Joyce said. “We want to prevent this, we don’t want to wait until something like this happens.”
CCSO Deputy Joe Schnupp holds bracelets and a receiver that will be used to track missing persons as part of Project Lifesaver.
CCSO Deputy Joe Scnupp retrieves a Teddy bear wearing a transmitting bracelet he tracked Sept. 14 in Portland while introducing Project Lifesaver.