N.H. police see safety, savings in 'LoJack for people'

By Derrick Perkins
Union Leader

SALEM, N.H. — Finding a missing Alzheimer's patient or an autistic child is a nightmare for law enforcement and caregivers alike, but now the same technology used to locate stolen cars will be deployed to help.

The Salem Police Department is the first in New Hampshire to offer the LoJack SafetyNet program, said Deputy Chief William Ganley. Essentially, it allows caregivers to equip an individual in danger of "wandering" with a water-proof transmitter worn on the ankle or wrist. It emits a unique digital radio frequency pre-registered with police.

If someone is missing, officers will be able to home in on them using a receiver. The system has a range of about a mile from the ground and up to seven miles from the air, Ganley said.

"For lack of a better description, it's kind of like LoJack for people," he said. "It's designed for people who can't tell us where they are or who they are. It's not for anybody to use as a safety measure. ... It's for the people who need our help the most."

Residents interested in enrolling can contact the department, said Sgt. Joel Dolan, SafetyNet's point man in Salem. One of six officers trained in the system, Dolan said the wristwatch-size device will save time, manpower and potentially lives.

A typical search takes up to nine hours and can tie up an entire shift, he said. And that doesn't include help officers may need from the fire department or New Hampshire Fish and Game.

"It's a much more efficient way and safer way to search," Dolan said.

The underlying technology has been available since 1999, said Paul MacMahon, a spokesman for LoJack. Two years ago his company bought Locator Systems, a maker of tracking devices, and teamed up with Project Lifesaver International, a nonprofit group with a decade of experience helping families find "wandering" relatives, to make the system a reality.

"It's a combination of the best and the best, optimized to deliver a search and rescue solution for a problem that's growing," MacMahon said.

The program is used by more than 1,000 police departments in 45 states and has played a role in more than 2,000 successful rescues, he said.

In nearby North Andover, Mass., authorities adopted SafetyNet a year ago. Though the department has never had to use it in an emergency, Sgt. Michael Davis said they're ready to go. The program gives caregivers and relatives peace of mind knowing authorities can quickly find a missing loved one, the North Andover sergeant said.

The program comes at a cost. Though the department was able to buy SafetyNet with a $3,000 donation from Salem's Kiwanis, there is still an enrollment fee of $99 per participant and it costs $30 a month to replace batteries.

Ganley doesn't want cost to keep qualified residents from using the service, so the department will seek donations to cover those who can't afford it, he said.

"Nobody will be turned away," Ganley said. "We saw this program and thought it would be a good fit for our community."

Copyright 2009 Union Leader

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