Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, HCSO offer new device to track missing persons

By Katie Jones, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, August 26, 2016, 6:54 PM EDT

Thanks to a new state grant, another layer of protection will soon be available for families with loved ones who -- due to medical conditions -- are at risk for wandering off.

  • Pilot program utilizes "Safety Net" device
  • Device emits radio frequencies that deputies can track
  • Deputies say someone wearing the device can be located in around 30 minutes

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at USF are set to introduce a pilot program with a device called 'Safety Net.'

Corporal Ben Coddington with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said the device can help save lives.

"A lot of times people on the autism spectrum, as well as Alzheimer’s and dementia, get scared and may actually try to hide from law enforcement. The lights, the sirens, the radios," said Coddington.

The device helps law enforcement and the community locate those people without the fear.

"We've had a lot of incidents in the state of Florida where individuals have gotten away from their homes and not have a positive outcome," said Dr. Karen Berkman, Executive Director of CARD.

The Safety Net device is worn like a bracelet. It emits radio frequencies, which deputies can track.

Each device has its own unique number that will be registered with the Sheriff’s Office. Coddington said they are usually able to find the missing person in about 30 minutes, which is a huge relief on resources.

Coddington said the device also helps deputies identify and properly interact with those with disabilities.

"When you're speaking and giving commands, we're used to people obeying them and doing what we ask them to do," said Coddington. "So when people do not, it can be misconstrued as they're actually willfully disobeying our commands."

Most importantly, law enforcement and members of CARD hope Safety Net will give families some peace of mind.

"Every passing minute, the deputies are there, they're working, but in the back of our minds we know the clock is ticking and the sooner we can find these people and return them to their families the better," said Coddington.