Law Enforcement

Wandering, Traffic-Related Interactions and Calls for Services

Person with a walker crossing the street at a crosswalk

As the nation’s population continues to age, there will be more persons living with of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia and therefore more and more opportunities where those with Alzheimer’s may come in contact with local law enforcement and public safety officials.

Law enforcement can become involved with individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers in a wide variety of situations. These list below are examples of behaviors or situations that should get the attention of law enforcement officers and prompt direct contact:

What Law Enforcement Can Do In-House

Frontline patrol officers are the lifeblood of any law enforcement agency and spend their work hours interacting with the community they serve. They patrol neighborhoods, resolve disputes, enforce laws, deal with community disturbances, and provide aid to individuals in times of need or crisis. Also, at times, frontline patrol officers may wear the hat of a psychologist, a teacher, or a counselor as they interact with the public. Along with their nonsworn, frontline colleagues, they are the face of the department to the public. The task of law enforcement in interacting with the community to improve and ensure public safety is challenging work. The best patrol officers strive to resolve situations efficiently and peacefully, whenever possible, by utilizing all of the training and specialized tactics learned from previous incidents.

To that end, law enforcement agencies across the nation are working to increase positive outcomes when someone with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia is reported missing or when an officer encounters someone with Alzheimer’s or their caregiver during the normal course of their duties. The efforts of agencies take the form of specialized trainings, resources, and policy development, which may include:

While most people understand that an individual with Alzheimer’s will have memory loss and an inability to recognize persons, landmarks or other things that would be familiar to someone without the disease, persons with Alzheimer’s can also be irrational, confused and even combative because of their distorted perceptions of where they are and what they are doing. Law enforcement officers may come in contact with persons with Alzheimer’s disease in a number of different types of situations. Having the ability to identify that a person who initially seems to be coherent may actually be confused and at-risk can make a difference in a potentially life-threatening situation.

The first step for an agency to address the concern within its community is leadership commitment. Once the agency leaders have made a committment to addressing the issue, there are four recommended areas on which law enforcement should focus:

1. Officer and staff training

Commitment to training all officers and nonsworn staff on Alzheimer’s disease. This training can be multilayered from many options available. Two highly recommended Alzheimer’s Aware initiative trainings:

After trainings have been completed, provide convenient on-site access to resources for local officers’ nonsworn personnel and volunteers to use when interacting with persons with Alzheimer’s disease, their caregivers, and the community. Many documents and resources have been produced to assist with identifying possible cases of dementia, steps to be taken when an incident occurs, the “dos and don’ts” of how to communicate with someone with the disease, and resources to provide to caregivers, such as the Adult ID Kit.

2. Review adoption and implementation of overall agency policies and procedures that take Alzheimer’s into account as a possible component

Establish an internal team of varying ranks and positions to discuss and plan for policy review and modifications, training assessment and planning, and community engagement strategies. This internal team could include frontline officers, administration, and nonsworn staff and department volunteers. Including Dispatch on the internal team adds an important perspective, as they are generally the first contact that family, friends, patients, or others may have when contacting the agency.

Review of department missing persons and other applicable policies and procedures giving consideration to policy modification, as needed, including special circumstances involved in dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. The IACP has published an Issue Paper and Model Policy on Alzheimer’s disease, which is available at no-cost to law enforcement agencies. The IACP Model Policy is specifically related to missing persons with Alzheimer’s disease but could be incorporated into other existing policies. In addition, information identified in the Model Policy relates to the behaviors and hallmarks of the disease that may have an impact on other policies, such as use of force, handcuffing, domestic violence, or others, all of which should be reviewed.

3. Development, implementation, or adjustment of local projects/operations related to at-risk populations

Appointment of a community/local advisory committee or designation of a current agency advisory group, such as a senior advisory committee or community advisory committee, is critical to successful implementation of your agency’s strategic plan. Where necessary, other member groups within the community should be added to ensure community-wide engagement and diversity among the groups represented.

Review ongoing local projects/operations to determine where there exists commonalities to Alzheimer’s at-risk populations and where information to increase awareness and preparedness can be distributed communitywide; for example, the distribution of Alzheimer’s Aware Adult ID Kits.

Development and implementation of a local public information campaign must be undertaken to raise awareness among community members and local businesses about Alzheimer’s disease, its impact on the community, and how they can play a key role in instances of wandering or other interactions with individuals with Alzheimer’s. Consideration should be given to the delivery of the Alzheimer’s Aware Recognize, React, Respond: Caregivers and Community Awareness Workshop (available on the Resource Page) developed by the Center for Public Safety and Justice.

An approach developed by the Alzheimer’s Aware pilot site, the Lee County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office, in collaboration with its community partner, was to strategically contact the local medical community to ensure that physicians understand the importance of early diagnosis and planning by patients and family members. For instance, one key issue for which health care professionals can be of critical support to caregivers is determining when the driving abilities of patients patients with Alzheimer’s should be assessed. Often this decision can be easier to accept with health care professional involvement, avoiding placing the sole responsibility and ramifications of the decision onto the caregiver.

4. Development and implementation of a local “registry” or supportive program to encourage and increase local participation in a national registry for persons with Alzheimer’s.

Encourage caregivers to use a registry, which can provide invaluable information when law enforcement needs to search for someone who is wandering or when an officer encounters an older individual alone. Registries are critical when an officer has reason to believe that the person might have Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia and has wandered, is lost or is at-risk and wants to locate their family or caregiver. The MedicAlert Foundation has created L.E.A.P. (Law Enforcement Agency Portal) – a partnership program to aid law enforcement agencies and their vulnerable community members during wandering emergencies. The program allows agencies to register their community members (at no cost) with MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®, which is a specific service that provides 24/7 wandering protection for individuals with Alzheimer’s or related dementia. Missing person cases and wandering incidents are a major concern for law enforcement (especially as it relates to the Alzheimer’s community), therefore the L.E.A.P. program also connects law enforcement agencies with specialized wandering-related training and resources for their officers. The L.E.A.P. program, combined with the information MedicAlert provides, has been proven to save time, resources, and most importantly, it saves lives. MedicAlert also has the most robust national registry and database for individuals at risk for wandering and continues to serve as a trusted resource for law enforcement agencies.