Law enforcement agencies would be better equipped to find missing vulnerable adults and children under a bill proposed by a Rochester lawmaker.
DFL Rep. Kim Norton is sponsoring legislation that would establish a statewide lifesaver grant program. This program would give local law enforcement the training and technology necessary to locate lost individuals who are wearing a special transmitter that looks like a bracelet.
Rochester resident Brad Trahan traveled to St. Paul today to testify in support of Norton's bill. The co-founder of the RT Autism Association said he's still haunted by the funeral of a 7-year-old autistic boy from Wisconsin who went missing and was found dead.
“I’ll never forget, my friends, the weeping that I heard from that family, the friends, the volunteers and the strangers, and I always vowed that I never want to see a mom and dad kiss (their child’s) casket and say goodbye,” Trahan said.
Trahan, co-founder of the RT Autism Association, worked with the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office and Rochester Police Department in 2007 to launch Project Lifesaver. Sitting before a House legislative panel, Trahan held up the arm of his severely autistic son Reece to show lawmakers the transmitter.
“We have so many vulnerable individuals, and I can’t imagine if we have tools and the technology in this day and age to help our public safety, law enforcement our fire to find these individuals much quicker an faster — that’s the best case scenario,” Trahan said.
Norton told members of the committee that 48 law enforcement agencies in the state have a lifesaver program in place. Under her proposal, law enforcement agencies would have the option of applying for a $6,000 grant to cover the cost of the equipment and training. The cost to make the program available statewide would cost between $350,000 to $400,000, but Norton said it’s up to lawmakers to decide how much money they want to allocate to the program. Otherwise, the grant dollars could be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
She said these transmitter bracelets are ideal for vulnerable adults and children with a tendency to wander off, including those with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism and Down syndrome.
“This doesn’t replace staff, it doesn’t replace family watching these individuals, but when they do wander off, this is a real opportunity to make certain that person is returned safely and quickly to their place of residence and with their families and people who care about them and love them,” Norton said.
Also testifying in support of the bill was Jonah Weinberg, executive director of the Autism Society of Minnesota. He said this technology is critical to helping find children with autism quickly.
“If that child becomes scared, they are most likely to find the tiniest, smallest place and curl themselves up in to a little ball and stay here, making it harder for law enforcement or volunteers to help find them,” Weinberg said.
Trahan, who serves on the Project Lifesaver International Board, said that program finds lost individuals on average in 30 minutes or less. There have been 2000 searches since 1998 and no fatalities.
Members of the House Aging and Long-Term Care Policy committee praised Norton’s bill. The committee voted unanimously via voice vote to pass the bill and forwarded it to the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee. A similar bill is being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester.