The East Ridge Police Department is encouraging residents to sign up family members with disabilities like autism or dementia for a newly adopted "Take Me Home" program.
The initiative creates a protected database of residents who may have trouble communicating with law enforcement officials and lack ID in case of an emergency. It includes a recent photo, a home address and contact information of a caretaker to help identify an individual who may be lost and return them home.
According to the Take Me Home website, information like "the most likely places where he/she would go to, as well as triggers, stimulants and de-escalation techniques" are also included.
Police Chief Stan Allen said he first heard of the program at a Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police meeting and later spoke with the Chattanooga Police Department, which was already using the system.
"It just sounded like a really good opportunity for us and another way to be involved with the community to help the people that we deal with," Allen said in a phone interview with the Times Free Press. "East Ridge has a pretty significant population of older people, and [they're] not the only ones that this will help, but [they're] part of it."
"We really haven't had a lot of issues like this. But I don't want to wait until it is an issue to get it started," he said.
Dave Buck of the Chattanooga Autism Center said parents with autistic kids and other caregivers likely have concerns about their loved ones wandering off and getting lost, and programs like Take Me Home can be a helpful tool.
"If the individual is either nonverbal or is having a difficult time communicating who they are, then the police officer has a database that they can take a look at and see if they can find that picture," Buck said in a phone interview. "And if they can match the picture with the individual they found, then they're able to contact the caregivers."
"We strongly encourage families to call and ask about that program with East Ridge police. And if it's a good fit for them, I really hope they participate and it can be very helpful for their loved ones."
Buck also said he hopes for more collaboration between mental health organizations and law enforcement agencies in the future, like with the crisis intervention training, which helps officials learn how to de-escalate situations involving those with mental health concerns.
"Any chance that our organizations, mental health organizations, can work with law enforcement, I think it's a win for everyone," he said. "I would love for some creative people to keep thinking about these issues and develop more tools in the future."
Those interested in signing up can do so at takemehometn.org. Submissions are reviewed by the agency before being approved for the database.
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