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The city of Chattanooga is getting statewide recognition for a program which helps first responders address non-verbal special needs and dementia patients.

Take Me Home is a software program that Chattanooga Fire Department, information technology and police personnel have established to provide a searchable database for law enforcement and other first responders to more efficiently and carefully handle citizens who are unable to identify themselves.

"If you get pulled over and you can't identify yourself, state law [said] you shall be taken to jail," State Rep. Mike Carter said to the city council Tuesday. "The city, through your departments and the enthusiasm I've seen throughout this project, have done a great thing. Now, when you are pulled over and you cannot communicate to identify yourself, and your family has put you in the database, a slide show comes up ... and they don't have to put people in and out of jail unnecessarily."

some text Staff file photo / Rep. Mike Carter speaks during the Education Mini-Summit at the Volkswagen Conference Center on Sept. 20, 2016.

The database, championed locally by Fire Capt. Skyler Phillips, uses a software developer through the city's Information Technology Department to allow officers to search general characteristics and street names to identify those unable to identify themselves.

Carter, who sponsored a bill in the state House to remove liability from the city if the software was shared with other state agencies, told the council that the work of the city in creating a searchable database of nonverbal and noncommunicative citizens will help special needs and dementia patients to stay out of jail and will help streamline law enforcement.

"A dear friend of mine, right before we passed this bill, spent 22 hours at the Hamilton County jail the first time he left his home after having dementia for seven years," Carter said. "No one knew him and they couldn't identify him. So that's what the city of Chattanooga has [improved] through its various groups."

After Rep. Carter and Sen. Todd Gardenhire presented the city a copy of the bill and a hearty public thank you, members of the council expressed their gratitude for the departments responsible for the software.

some text Staff file photo / Sen. Todd Gardenhire, right, listens to Sen. Bo Watson in 2016 at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"Thank you for all you do. I know it means a lot because I work with the center for disabilities through the mayor's council and the Chattanooga Area Employment Consortium and I know as a group it means a lot to them," Chairman Erskine Oglesby said of the program and of Phillips' work. "And being the father of an autistic son, it makes you feel really good to know that you have programs like that because things can happen beyond your control."

For more information on the program or to register someone in the database, visit http://www.chattanooga.gov/police-department/take-me-home.

In other news, the council continued an ongoing debate about public comment during its Tuesday strategic planning meeting.

The council discussed removing certain stipulations of public comment to avoid community outbursts, following a particularly heated meeting two weeks ago that resulted in police intervention and an abrupt adjournment.

(Read more: Police intervene, meeting adjourned as activist, council spar about gun violence)

Though the council has not officially reached a consensus on which rules should change, they are expected to vote on the policy changes next week, likely loosening certain comment restrictions effective at the subsequent voting meeting.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or staylor@timesfreepress.com or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.

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