Practice makes perfect for police that focus on finding the missing

DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WPRI) — Before they have to try to find someone truly in distress who may have cognitive difficulties, a search-and-rescue team of officers from SEMLEC – the Southeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council – gathered in Dartmouth Tuesday morning to give it a dry run, using state-of-the-art equipment.

Finding the missing is fastest, search crews said, when a person with the potential to go astray, or who may not be able to fend for themselves or seek assistance, is equipped with a radio tracker. The members of SEMLEC practiced with radio receivers that hone in on bracelet trackers provided by local sheriffs. In southeastern Massachusetts, law enforcement works with a company called SafetyNet and an organization called Project Lifesaver.

Training set out from the Dartmouth Fire Department’s station on Russell Mills Road, venturing into wooded areas. Practice was done with trackers placed in the woods, followed by a person playing the role of the missing.

The training takes place every month, according to Seekonk Police Sgt. Sean Dowd, with alerts to a vanished person almost as often: “We average about one call-out a month, ranging from missing children to missing elderly people, Alzheimer’s, things of that sort. We’ve had a pretty good success rate in finding people pretty quickly.”

Someone who has a tracking bracelet on their wrist or ankle will be registered with law enforcement, with a particular radio frequency noted. If the subject wanders, search crews tune their equipment to the subject’s frequency, and start putting out the electronic ear in the subject’s last known direction. That search may start in a car, moving to on foot if the signal shows up stronger in a particular area.

“The average person in good health can walk two miles in an hour. Those few minutes when someone has gone missing are important to us to begin the search for them,” said Officer Scott Affonce, who works for the Dartmouth Police Department.

There are about a hundred people in Bristol County whose families and caregivers have registered a tracker with authorities.