SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. – Ken and Diane of The Villages in Sumter County love to walk.
The elderly couple enjoys the exercise, but also the quiet moments together to try to remember the memories that are fading. Ken is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“If he has fallen and the police came, to have a conversation with him, he has difficulty finding the words to say to get the information he needs,” Diane said.
So the couple signed up for a special I.D. card from the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. Victim Advocate Sharon Doncourt calls the card the “Safe ID.”
“The chief wanted a way for citizens with disabilities to be able to safely communicate with law enforcement,” Doncourt said. “Sometimes behaviors with someone with a disability may be interpreted incorrectly and they put that person or the law enforcement officer in danger. The tips on the back of the card will allow a deputy to see what triggers the person may have, what may set them off, or what may make the situation get to a different level. So if the deputy is aware of that in the beginning then they’re able to communicate with the person in a more effective manner.”
Ken carries the card in his wallet. He also wears a GPS-enabled watch provided by the sheriff’s office that pinpoints his location. Doncourt calls the tracking system “D.R.E.A.M.” - dementia, recovery, education and management.
Both deputies and Diane can see exactly where Ken is at all times. Diane can create a “safe zone” that will alert her if Ken wanders out of it. And Diane can speak with Ken via his watch.
“She [Diane] can contact me, she can talk to me,” Ken said. “And I can inform her as to what is going on.”
Doncourt said both the SAFE ID card and the DREAM tracker are for anyone in Sumter County with any sort of disability or ailment.
“The goal is for interactions with law enforcement to be safe, for both the law enforcement officer and the individual,” Doncourt said. “And for the interaction to be positive.”
Doncourt said children and young adults with autism have also obtained the SAFE ID card.
“If there’s a child or teenager or young adult with autism, sometimes their behaviors may be different from somebody else and could be interpreted differently,” Doncourt said. “Law enforcement doesn’t know the person has autism [without the SAFE ID].”
Ron Rahe picked up a clip-on DREAM tracker for his wife from the sheriff’s office and bought her a tracking watch after he almost lost her shopping last month.
“I was in the process of checking out. And I look up and she’s gone. Oh my goodness,” Rahe said. “I started hunting for her. I ended up in a strip shopping center and I tracked her from location to location through that shopping center. She was about to go out onto a four-lane highway. Walking. I caught her before she was able to do that.”
Doncourt has handed out 25 Safe ID cards over the past several months and 60 GPS trackers.