LDS policeman creates safety program for people with disabilities

When your child wanders away from home, your natural reaction is to panic. And when your child has a disability such as autism that renders him or her incapable of asking for help or even saying his or her name, the situation becomes even more dire. What about when your aging parent with dementia strolls out the door, tempted by the improving springtime weather?

Officer Jimmy Donohoe, a member of the Church in Pensacola, Fla., has created a program to help police officers and families of persons with disabilities work together to keep them safe. Take Me Home is free to both citizens and the police departments and makes it possible for officers to identify these people they encounter. By entering a brief physical description into the database, they can bring up pictures of the people in their area who have entered into the program. Once they find the correct photo, they click on it to access the contact information of the family.

The program also works in reverse—if a person goes missing who has already been registered with Take Me Home, the family can call the police and inform them, allowing all officers in the area to instantly bring up the picture of the missing person.

Donohoe, who has an autistic son, came up with the idea after a meeting with the Autism Society in his area in 2003. He took it to a local software company that did it for free. To make sure it could stay free, he copyrighted the idea and distributes the software directly to the police departments. The biggest hurdle now is finding the manpower to maintain the databases, which is most commonly done by volunteers.

Donohoe has many success stories to relate, with about 500 people registered in the program in his county alone. One night a police officer encountered a nine-year-old boy running naked through the streets. He recognized him as autistic and was able to get him into the back of his squad car while he found the boy on the Take Me Home database. A few minutes later he had the location of the boy’s home six blocks away and was able to return him before the family even realized he was missing.

 “It gives the parents peace of mind that there’s something law enforcement’s done,” Donohoe said.

The program is already available in 250 precincts across North America and England. “I’m just hopeful that it can help somebody,” Donohoe said. “That’s my main concern. These people deserve more . . . especially from people like me that are here to protect and serve.”

For areas that don’t have Take Me Home, just contact officer Donohoe at JDonohoe@ci.pensacola.fl.us to get it started.

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