September 16, 2010


Police trained on tracking devices

Sheriff’s Dept. will use equipment to find people who might wander from home

PoliceJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Sgt. David Tobias, left, and Undersheriff Herb Barnhart of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department set up a radio receiver used to locate a wrist watch style transmitter worn by people who have a tendency to wander while training Wednesday with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department.

Staff Reporter

Cortland County and Onondaga County sheriff’s deputies walked through the trails at Lime Hollow Center for Culture and the Environment on Wednesday as they tested new tracking equipment that will be used to locate people lost.
Holding a radio-receiver up high, Sgt. David Tobias of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department listened to the tracking equipment’s chirps as it homed in on Deputy Michael Walton from Onondaga County.
Walton’s efforts at eluding the Cortland deputies were unsuccessful, as the officers tracked him within minutes using a Project Lifesaver bracelet he wore.
Crouching in the underbrush, Walton was flushed out by officers who approached him from either side, as the search came to an end within 10 minutes of beginning.
The Virginia-based company Project Lifesaver has supplied Cortland County with the tracking equipment that officers were training with in Lime Hollow’s forests. The bracelets are about the size and shape of watches, but weigh less.
The county has received two receivers and two bracelets. The county Area Agency on Aging and the Sheriff’s Department will work together to raise funds to purchase additional bracelets. The county Agency on Aging plans to buy about 10 of the bracelets, which cost about $300 each with needed replacement batteries and bands.
The bracelets will go to people who could wander from home, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Down’s Syndrome or dementia. The Area Agency on the Aging will coordinate the distribution of bracelets, assessing which clients would benefit from them.
Cortland County Undersheriff Herb Barnhart said the county anticipates charging a deposit for use of the bracelets, which is expected to be $300 but may vary, depending on the ability of the recipient to pay and whether sponsors are found to offset costs.
The Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department was certifying Barnhart, Sgt. Karl Altman, Sgt. Josh Parente, Lt. Robert Derksen and Tobias in the use of the equipment Wednesday.
Barnhart said the certification will be renewed every two years.
During the search, Onondaga County Sgt. John Stephens described how the equipment works, narrowing the range of search as the beeps get closer together.
Stephens said that searching in an area such as the nature center is not as challenging as searching in an urban area, where metallic surfaces might prevent the signal from carrying to the equipment.
Barnhart said the equipment works in urban areas, but the operators must use proper procedures to work around large buildings and other objects that interfere with the signal.
“It is important to train in different situations,” Stephens said.
Based on data from nationwide use of the equipment, Stephens said the average search lasts less than 30 minutes in real life scenarios.
Officers conducted two searches Wednesday at Lime Hollow.
“Not only are we bringing people home quickly and saving them from injury ... but the average search ... costs thousands of dollars,” Stephens said, noting the tracking devices will save money.
Barnhart praised the cooperation between departments, saying that by having the Onondaga Sheriff’s Department do the training, the county saved thousands of dollars it otherwise would have had to spend to send officers to Virginia to be trained.
Derksen and Barnhart said there are several people in the community who repeatedly wander from home and could benefit from the bracelets. Although these people are frequently found quickly, Barnhart said equipment that guarantees a fast recovery is essential in Cortland County, where winters are very cold.
“The sooner we find them, the better off we are,” Barnhart said. “They are not exposed to the elements and other dangers.”
He mentioned, for example, that autistic people can be drawn to water.


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