Louie Gabrel

Daviess County Sheriff’s Deputy Louis Gabrel waits for further instruction on operating the Project Lifesaver technology the sheriff’s department recently received thanks to a grant from the Daviess County Community Foundation.

Like other law enforcement agencies, the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department is there to protect and serve the community. Now, thanks to a grant from the Daviess County Community Foundation that helped to purchase some new equipment, the department can take protecting and serving to the next level.

This week, a team of deputies received some in-depth training on how to use the Project Lifesaver technology.

Brian Nugent, deputy chief with the Avon Police Department, and Karen Utley, Project Lifesaver Henderson County coordinator and public education coordinator for the Washington Township Fire Department also in Hendricks County, helped deputies navigate the ins and outs of the technology that can help find those with cognitive disorders.

“This transmitter can help law enforcement agencies find people who wander off from their caregivers,” said Nugent, as he pointed to the small, round transmitters that resemble the face of a watch. “That includes people with autism, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Down syndrome and other cognitive impairments.”

Those transmitters, which can be worn like a watch or around an ankle, operate on a regular radio frequency and paired with Project Lifesaver’s personal locator system, can help law enforcement and other first responders find those who could be in danger faster.

Nugent and Utley know first hand just how valuable the Project Lifesaver system can be. In 2017, Shalom Lawson drowned in a retention pond while visiting family in Brownsburg. The 8-year-old, who was autistic, had a habit running. The Lawsons, who were from Kentucky, didn’t know about Project Lifesaver.

“Had they had that, the outcome may have been different,” said Nugent.

Project Livesaver, Nugent said, creates a network that can alert other law enforcement agencies about individuals enrolled in the program who may be visiting their areas.

“A family can call and tell us they will be in area, and we can then let agencies know a Project Lifesaver participant is coming to the area in case something would happen,” he said, adding the average response time to help find a missing individual is around nine hours and searches cost around $1,500 an hour to conduct. “That’s multiple officers looking and in situations like this, we want to find the person as soon as possible. Having this technology is really a wise investment to do up front.”

The transmitters, Utley said, not only give caregivers peace of mind but also can cut down the search time.

“There are around 32 counties in Indiana that have this technology,” said Utley, adding she and Nugent have conducted training in four other counties in the last few months. “Agencies all have the same equipment. Every missing person is important, but those with cognitive disorders are a little different than someone who just left home because they didn’t want to be there.”

By plugging in the transmitter number of the missing person into the personal locating receiver, officers can use a series of chirps to help locate the person.

“The chirps get louder as you get closer to the transmitter,” said Nugent.

Sheriff Gary Allison said much like many other participating departments, ID cards will be printed for participants that can provide those searching with other valuable information such as if the missing person is better with women than men or if they are afraid of being chased.

“It’s important to have that information not only because we could have someone from another community go missing here but also because we don’t always know how someone may react,” said Allison.

Daviess County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Steve Sturgis said currently Daviess County has two transmitters and while both are already spoken for, that doesn’t mean others can’t get the devices for their loved ones.

“We are hoping to get things rolling in about month and are hoping to get more people involved,” said Sturgis, who said those interested in learning more about Project Lifesaver should contact the sheriff’s department. “Our goal is to get paperwork all taken care of then start adding other clients.”

The Avon Police Department, Nugent said, has received a lot of support from the community to expand its own Project Lifesaver program and Sheriff Gary Allison hopes the same thing can be done in Daviess County. It costs around $400 to enroll someone in the program right now.

Those interested in supporting the Project Lifesaver efforts in Daviess County or those wanting to learn more about the program can contact the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department at 812-254-1060.

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