A few months ago, a boy with autism wandered off from a class trip. The Burlington County Sheriff’s Department was called, and it tracked the boy down within 10 minutes of its arrival. He was about to enter a body of water when he was found.
The officers located him using a radio frequency emitted from a wristband he was wearing. The boy is just one of the lives that have been saved through Project Lifesaver, a national program that protects individuals who may wander off by equipping them with a radio transmitter in a wristband.
The Moorestown Rotary Breakfast Club recently shined a light on the program by donating $500 toward the program to the Burlington County Sheriff Department. Undersheriff Michael Ditzel said it’s the support of civic groups like the Rotary that enables them to purchase wristbands for families who cannot afford them.
The sheriff’s department has participated in the program for the last 15 years, and it currently has 80 clients in Burlington County. Ditzel said the program caters toward families who have a child with autism or Down syndrome as well as ones where members have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia that put them at risk for becoming lost due to memory loss.
Officers undergo training and become certified to participate in the program. In addition to the officers from the sheriff’s department, they also have certified officers in Burlington Township, Mount Laurel, Florence and Bordentown departments.
Ditzel said Project Lifesaver has become a good community relations program. The batteries in the wristbands have to be changed once a month, so officers go out to meet their clients once a month. He said in doing so, officers have built strong relationships with the clients they serve.
He said they do receive some funding to cover the cost of the wristbands, they do ask that if families can afford to purchase one, this enables someone else who cannot cover the cost to get a wristband for their loved one. He said $500 will cover the cost of two wristbands.
The program is not a fit for everyone. Ditzel said in the past, they’ve had clients who weren’t willing to wear the bands and who cut them off. But for those who do, the bands are truly lifesavers.
The department recently tracked down an older gentleman with dementia who had wandered off after dark. Because the department knows what frequency the band is on, it can narrow the search radius by following the signal. Within five minutes of being on the scene, they had tracked the man down. Ditzel stressed, however, that time is key. The sooner residents contact the department, the quicker it’s able to track him or her down.
“The fact is it’s an invaluable program,” Ditzel said. “It’s important to get the message out there.”
For more information or to register a loved one, call the Burlington County Sheriff’s Department Unit at (609) 265-3788.