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Missing Person Alerts for Seniors

Proposed Legislation Waives 24-Hour Waiting Period


Lawmakers in several U.S. states are exploring legislation that would enable police to issue local alerts for missing senior citizens without the usual 24-hour waiting period.

Supporters say such laws are needed because seniors who turn up missing often suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or have other medical conditions that leave them disoriented and in need of immediate assistance.

The Need for Faster Response
The Indianapolis Star reported the case of Caroline Johnson, a 74-year-old woman who was driving home after running an errand, took a wrong turn, became disoriented, and was missing for 15 hours before she was found. Johnson’s family contacted police for help as soon as they realized she was missing, only to be told they would have to wait 24 hours to file a missing persons report.

"My entire family felt completely hopeless," said Linda Napier, Johnson’s adult daughter, in an interview with the Indianapolis Star.

“Within 24 hours my mother could have been the victim of some unfortunate and needless event -- hypothermia, exposure, hit-and-run, or maybe even murder.”

Napier said that when a police officer finally found her mother she had not had anything to eat or drink for 15 hours. Nine days after the incident, Johnson had a stroke, and her doctors believe she may have suffered a small stroke on the day she was missing.

Proposed Legislation
Indiana State Rep. William Ruppel, who introduced a bill in the Indiana Legislature last year to allow police to issue “senior medical alerts” as soon as a guardian or caretaker reports that the missing person is a senior, said that when senior citizens are missing, families and police shouldn’t have to wait 24 hours to take action.

“Sometimes that is too long, and you might lose that senior,” Ruppel said.

Bills to create a more rapid missing person alert and response system for seniors, such as the one Ruppel proposed in Indiana, are often compared to the Amber Alerts system for missing children, which enables law enforcement officials and broadcasters to work together to quickly issue missing person alerts about children without the usual 24-hour waiting period.

What are Amber Alerts? Why are some legislators opposed to this law? And what can you do to express your opinion? See Page 2...

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