Sheriff’s Department Using CareTrak

Thursday, March 11th, 2010 @ 4:00PM

Daily Chronicle News Article
By DANA HERRA
March 11, 2010

Device helps police find missing people caretraklogo

SYCAMORE – Last June, a Sycamore mother asked DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott if he was familiar with Care Trak, a system that uses radio transmitters to help police find missing people with disabilities.

The idea resonated with Scott, who, like the woman, is the parent of a child with Down syndrome who has been known to wander off. Within two months of the conversation, the sheriff’s office helped to find a missing child with Down syndrome and one with autism, he said.

On Thursday, officers with the sheriff’s office and DeKalb Police and firefighters with the Waterman Fire Department began training in the Care Trak system. The receiving equipment was purchased with a grant from the DeKalb County Community Foundation and through private donations, Scott said.

“We actually raised over our goal, which allowed us to include DeKalb and Waterman,” Scott said. “I wanted to include Waterman because of where they’re located. There are some places in the county they can get to quicker than if we have to bring the equipment from our office in Sycamore.”

Care Trak is specifically for people with special needs who are at risk for going missing, senior vice president of worldwide operations Mike Chylewski said. It began as a spin-off of Wildlife Materials, a company that makes radio collars to track endangered species.

An executive with the company put a transmitter bracelet on his wife, who had Alzheimer’s disease. When she wandered off a week later, he was able to use the radio signal from the transmitter to find her and bring her home safely, Chylewski said.

Since the company was federally licensed in 1986, it has performed more than 2,000 rescues, and every missing person wearing a transmitter has been found, he said. On average, from the time police arrive until the person is found is about 30 minutes.

The company often fields calls from parents who simply want to keep tabs on their children, especially any time a child abduction makes national headlines, Chylewski said. But the service is strictly available for people with disabilities.

“We make people mad when we tell them no,” he said. “But we don’t want our police departments to become baby sitters, and that’s what would happen. It also gives people a false sense of security. And if it was widely used and advertised like that, what’s to stop the bad guy from taking the bracelet off?”

Care Trak has an advantage over GPS technology because the radio frequencies can still be tracked if a person goes indoors, trainer and Crystal Lake police officer Sean McGrath said. GPS often fails if the transmitter is blocked from view of the satellite in the sky.

Scott said he hopes to have the system online in DeKalb County by the end of April. At least three people have already contacted him about signing up – one with Down syndrome and two with Alzheimer’s. Families will pay a one-time fee of $200 for the transmitter, he said. After that, the only cost is $8 every other month to change the battery.

Scott hopes to continue to collect donations to expand the program and create a hardship fund for qualifying families who can’t afford the transmitter cost, he said.

Though the potential for the new system is exciting, Scott stressed that it is no substitute for old-fashioned police work. If a person goes missing, it is still imperative the family call the police right away.

“This is just another tool,” he said. “It doesn’t take the place of anything. Police will still work the neighborhood like we normally do. The (receiver) equipment won’t be there right away. A police officer will be.”

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