Tracking technology could help Mahwah police find residents with autism, Alzheimer’s

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MAHWAH, N.J. (PIX11)--“We have a report of a missing child. Again, report of a missing child last seen at Darlington County Park." This was the message that came in over the radio in Mahwah on Sunday afternoon.

If it were a call to find a real missing child, it would be the starting line in a race against time. But this was a test. Strapped to the wrist of PIX 11 News reporter Christie Duffy was a tracking device that police plan to outfit on Mahwah children with autism or adults with Alzheimer's or dementia. It's a new piece of technology acquired by the town that has parent, Anthony Cafiso, interested.

"He’s just walked out and went into our neighbors house and made himself very comfortable," said Cafiso at Mahwah Police Headquarters on Sunday.

He's talking about his 17-year-old step-son Ryan. "We didn’t know where he was at. We’re running around the whole neighborhood looking for him and unbeknownst to us he’s right next store nice and safe," Ryan is disabled and he's run away more than once. One time, Cafiso recalled, he escaped out his bedroom window and onto the roof of their home.

"Having this gives us a piece of mind knowing we can live more comfortably," said Cafiso, regarding the new wristbands.

The tracking device fits much like a wristwatch and they're waterproof. The tracking equipment cost $5,000 and each tracking device costs $200. The town plans to pay for as many wristbands as there are interested families through the Mahwah Municipal Alliance. So far, the Mahwah Police and the Mayor say at least a dozen families have expressed an interest.

"We’ve all responded to incidents where a person goes missing and it’s very stressful. Especially if you’re dealing with a child or it’s near water," said Sgt. Michael Blondin.

This tracking technology is not an exact science. It works off radio frequencies and police need to be within 1-mile of the device to get a signal on the ground, and within 5-miles if they are searching by helicopter. It's key that they begin their search wherever the child or adult was last seen and fan out to find a signal.

But it's still effective. PIX 11 News reporter Christie Duffy hid in the woods at the very back of Darlington County Park on Sunday. Police were able to locate where she was hiding in under eight minutes using the technology.

"This is a game changer this will change the quality of life for those touched by autism in our community," said Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet.

Laforet said Mahwah is one of only two towns in the state of New Jersey to use the technology to track missing persons with autism, Alzheimer's or dementia. According to the Mahwah Police, the other New Jersey using the devices is Bernardsville in Somerset County. LaForet estimated that roughly 800 towns across the nation use the technology, but he'd like to see more join the network.

12 Mahwah Police officers have been trained on how to use the technology and they plan to train more.

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