During his law enforcement career, Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern has several times had to search for someone’s missing family member.
For example, in October 1981, 62-year-old Nicholas Dikov, an Alzheimer’s patient, walked away from a Lawrence nursing home.
Despite several searches, no one found Dikov until his body was located years later near a lake.
McGovern said even if a family member or child is found safe, the search process is very tense and unnerving for families.
Now the sheriff’s department has a tool that will hopefully make some searches easier and could help prevent an outcome like the Dikov case. It’s called Project Lifesaver, in partnership with the Lawrence Pilot Club.
“This brings a tool where we can find that loved one much more quickly,” McGovern said.
It’s aimed at protecting adults and children who could be at risk of wandering from their families or homes, including those who suffer from Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism and Down syndrome.
A small radio transmitter attached to a bracelet is placed around the person’s wrist or ankle.
If a family member or caregiver calls 911 and reports the person missing, sheriff’s deputies, who are trained in using electronic radio tracking equipment, will be called to the area. When the equipment picks up the transmitter’s signal it will beep, giving officers clues about where to search.
Agencies across the nation have used Project Lifesaver, which is a national nonprofit organization. The organization says the average recovery time in a search is 30 minutes and that 2,200 people have been saved.
The sheriff’s office and Pilot Club will introduce Project Lifesaver at a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.
McGovern said he hoped to have enough devices for any families that want to use them. The Pilot Club has raised money to help cover the program’s $4,500 in initial costs. There is a $300 startup fee to pay for batteries and wristbands. After the first year, it costs $10 a month.
The Pilot Club has some funding available through a grant to help Alzheimer’s patients who can’t cover the cost of the device.
The club has volunteers who will check in on caregivers and clients to make sure the devices are working properly. McGovern said the goal is to have at least one officer trained to use the equipment on patrol each shift.
As Douglas County grows as a retirement community, McGovern said he expects strong demand for the program.
“The benefits — they come back with, and reuniting families,” he said, “I don’t think you can put a price on that.”