GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Glen Ridge Police Department has recently instituted a program providing assistance to parents or caregivers of residents whose cognitive abilities or medical conditions would make it difficult for them, if lost or wandering, to return home safely.
The program, “Take Me Home,” provides confidential information to the police to reconnect the caregiver and loved one. According to Chief Sean Quinn, this program has proven to be an invaluable police resource, nationwide, when working with nonverbal individuals or those with communication difficulties.
“It is specifically designed for seniors, special-needs children or any person considered high-risk or disabled,” he said.
GRPD Detective Sgt. Daniel Manley, who coordinates the program, said an application would be completed by the caregiver of the person in need. The application would register this person with only the GRPD. Manley added that the program now includes chronic runaways.
“The information contained in the application is important for our officers to have,” he said. “We put it into our internal computer dispatch system.”
Because the information, including a recent photo scan, can be dispatched from headquarters, a patrolling officer can immediately have the information.
“We had relied on hardcopy photos and hardcopy information,” Manley said. “That was a big challenge. Now we can upload this information; no delay.”
The program was launched in the borough March 10 although no one has yet registered. Manley said the West Orange Police Department also has the program and that it was developed by Officer Jimmy Donahue, now retired, of the Pensacola (Fla.) Police Department.
According to a “Take Me Home” website, Pensacola police worked with Consolidated Technology Solutions, a law enforcement software company, to create the program. It has been made available to law enforcement agencies free-of-charge. The GRPD is a beneficiary of this largess. The program costs the borough nothing.
Manley said he had been looking for some type of program that would increase a positive interaction between the GRPD and residents with special needs. He discovered “Take Me Home” and contacted Donahue.
“It started with children with special needs,” he said, “but was expanded when they saw how effective it was.”
Months can go by in Glen Ridge, Manley said, without a single report of a missing person and then there is a spate of them.
“We’ve had inquiries for ‘Take Me Home’ and sent out application packets, but haven’t heard back yet,” he said, adding that the department would contact the families who have already shown an interest.
The police are trying to get out the word via social media, the borough website, announcements and press releases. Next, they will provide the information to schools. Manley hopes the program is accepted by the residents.
“There is no fingerprinting, no DNA, no facial recognition,” he said. “We are not sharing this information with anyone because of confidentiality.”
In addition to descriptive, physical information, the application asks the name the person prefers when being addressed; a diagnosis of their condition including intellectual disability, dementia and diabetes; the type of residence where they live; communication factors, including if they are non-verbal, use sign language or pictures to communicate; previous recoveries and special considerations which include hugging others, self-stimulation, disrobing or attraction to water. Manley said people on the autism spectrum are sometimes attracted to water.
If a registered person goes missing, Manley said the parent or caregiver should call 9-1-1. The person registered has an assigned case number. This is dispatched; information and a photo is downloaded by patrolling officers.
“We get a lot of training dealing with people suffering with emotional difficulties,” Manley said. “Some officers go to classes for crisis interaction training. It’s a comprehensive program that trains officers to recognize disabilities.”
He added that all GRPD officers are well-versed in interacting with juveniles with special needs. There are, he said, for instance, a variety of objects, such as “fidget spinners,” that an officer can use to engage someone until their guardian arrives.
Manley, a 15-year GRPD veteran, said he does volunteer work with children with disabilities. When Quinn asked for volunteers to help with the program, he stepped forward.
Anyone interested in learning more about “Take Me Home” should contact Manley at (973) 748-5400 x-115; or Michele Rollo, the administrative assistant to the chief, at extension 118. Manley is also the GRPD liaison to the school district along with Detectives. Anthony Re and Kendall Caruso.