Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Police ID program reimagined for seniors

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 6/14/2013

Connie Sleichter wishes a senior identification program would have been around several years ago when her uncle went missing, she said.

“He drove [from Ottawa] to see a friend in Paola, and he never got there,” Sleichter said. “They found him later at a roadside park in Oklahoma.”

Connie Sleichter wishes a senior identification program would have been around several years ago when her uncle went missing, she said.

“He drove [from Ottawa] to see a friend in Paola, and he never got there,” Sleichter said. “They found him later at a roadside park in Oklahoma.”

Sleichter, service coordinator at Sunflower Plaza Tower, 701 S. Poplar St., relayed the account of her uncle’s disappearance to senior residents at Sunflower Plaza to illustrate the importance of the Ottawa Police Department’s Senior Identification Program, sponsored and conducted by the department’s Volunteers in Police Service organization.

VIPS has sponsored the Ident-A-Kid program for several years. As part of the program, a child’s physical description, digital photo, digital fingerprints and other information are stored on a CD and given to a parent or guardian, who can provide it to law enforcement officials if the child goes missing, VIPS representatives said.

VIPS recently expanded upon the nationwide Indent-A-Kid program to launch its own version of a senior identification program, Ron Hughes, VIPS volunteer coordinator, said.

“VIPS has talked about branching out and doing this for seniors, because of the threat of seniors with diminished mental capacities who wander off every day [somewhere in the U.S.] — leaving their loved ones at a loss to find them,” Cindy McCullough, manager of Sunflower Plaza Tower and a VIPS volunteer, said. “This is why we wanted to expand this to the seniors as well as children.

“VIPS did this for the very first time at this year’s Senior Health Fair held on May 2,” McCullough said. “It was at this time we discussed with Ron about coming here to Sunflower Plaza and doing this for our seniors. I hope no one ever needs it, but if they do perhaps this will make a difference in finding their loved one.”

The senior identification program works in much the same way as the child identification program, Hughes said. Background information, a digital photo, digital fingerprints and a physical description are stored on a disc, which the senior can give along with accompanying paperwork to a son, daughter or other contact person, Hughes said. The information could help authorities locate the senior if he or she were missing, he said.

Once the information is placed on a CD, the data is erased from the portable identification equipment, Hughes said, to ensure privacy.

“The police do not keep any data,” Hughes said. “The applicant is the only one with the information.”

VIPS will offer the free service to any local senior housing facility or group that would like to participate in the identification program, Hughes said.

“I think the program is a good idea,” Georgia Whiteford, one of the seniors participating in the program Thursday, said. “Connie told us about her uncle that drove away and didn’t know who he was. If we had this [identification program], maybe we could have identified him.”

Fifty seniors participated in the program Thursday, Hughes said.

“We did 32 seniors in the morning at Sunflower Plaza and then 18 in the afternoon at Cedar Square [Senior Housing],” Hughes said. “I thought it went real well, and we hope to continue doing this for others in town.”

The police department wanted to be proactive and reach out to Ottawa residents with the program, Hughes said.

“I stressed to everyone {Thursday] to give the CD and paperwork to their contact person in case something happens,” Hughes said. “Of course, we hope they never have to use this information.”

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