The Milton Police Department hopes a new grant-funded device will ensure that those who wander are not lost.
In coming months, the department will purchase six trackers for a new Operation Safe Return project. The trackers, which look just like a watch, are meant to be worn by people who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer's, autism or similar conditions and would help family members and police find them quickly in case they go missing.
“The point is to provide peace of mind for families,” said Chief Robert Longo. He said Criminal Justice Council grant money will cover the purchase of up to six trackers, which cost an average of $300 each.
Longo said his department will be the first in Sussex County to initiate this project, although New Castle County has a similar program through the nationally affiliated Project Lifesaver.
Milton's program will help families and caregivers keep tabs on at-risk loved ones. When someone is issued a tracking device, a “safe zone” will be established so caregivers or family members are alerted if the tracked person wanders somewhere they normally wouldn't go. If an elderly man leaves his neighborhood at 1 a.m., his family will immediately be alerted something is wrong.
The family would then contact Milton police, who will be able to access confidential information including an exact GPS location and certain health information.
“I pray that we never need it,” Longo said. “I don't ever want to be in a situation where we could have done something but we didn't. I would rather err on the side of caution with this.”
In 2016, Delaware State Police issued 138 gold alerts for missing people throughout Delaware, said spokesman Master Cpl. Gary Fournier. About 20 percent of those were in Sussex County.
Longo said he hopes to get the trackers in coming weeks and to have the program up and running by July. He said the program is free for residents, as the devices will be fully covered by grant money.
“It's not costing them anything,” he said, adding that the devices will be available to anyone within the Milton Fire Department jurisdiction – which extends far beyond Milton town limits.
“My job is to make sure my officers have the best tools available to do the best job for the citizens,” he said. “We're going to get the call anyway – this will make it a lot easier.”
Anyone interested in participating in the program should call Longo or Laura Karlik at the Milton Police Department at 302-684-8547.