Article and Photo by Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
The Grand Island Police Department has partnered with the town supervisor’s office to launch the “Take Me Home” program. The new service offers a safe return home for those who may need extra help communicating vital information in an emergency situation.
It’s already up and running and taking registrations to help a vulnerable segment of the Grand Island community. Individuals who are registered in the program are placed in a database that police officers can access via their patrol laptop computers.
Officer Troy Livesay, who heads the program, signed up for a seminar on “Take Me Home” as soon as he heard about it. Livesay said he has a special place in his heart for this program, and as such, would seem the ideal person to run it for Grand Island.
“I have a daughter who has multiple developmental disabilities,” he explained. Livesay also has a cousin whose son has Down syndrome and is nonverbal. “I guess it kind of really hits close to home and I thought that it’s a great program.”
“You come across adults, children that can’t communicate with you, but are also kind of nervous and scared,” he added. “So, to be able to be close by, but not go hands-on with them and to be able to find out who they are – that really means a lot.”
Livesay said that, if you can say their name, that can put them at ease.
He has been with the Grand Island Police for five years and retired from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office in 2017 after nearly 24 years.
Livesay said the seminar, sponsored by Autism Awareness of Western New York, took place in March at Hilbert College in Hamburg. Seminar presenters were retired Pensacola, Florida, police officer Jimmy Donohoe and retired fire captain Bill Cannata of the Westwood (Massachusetts) Fire Department, who have trained thousands of first responders since the program began in 2005.
“Both have severely autistic, non-verbal children,” Livesay said. “The police officer, Jimmy Donohoe, discovered the need to be able to have some type of system where, if police officers came across an individual that was nonverbal, that they could be able to identify them.”
Livesay said Donohoe went to a law enforcement software company, SmartCOP, and it developed the program.
“They have offered it free of charge to any police department in the country,” he said. The program is also available to fire departments.
“Our program is only for residents of Grand Island,” Livesay said.
It is a local database for not only autistic individuals, but also those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, those who are deaf – any individual who is unable to communicate, Livesay said.
Program information and a registration form are available at the Grand Island Police Department’s homepage: https://www.grand-island.ny.us/424/Take-Me-Home. A brochure will soon be available, as well.
Livesay said the enrollment process is pretty easy. He demonstrated a sample entry in real time via the online database.
“If we get a call: 10-year-old ran away from home … he is autistic, and they have a name, we can look him up by name,” he explained. “If we come across an individual – and it hasn’t yet been sent out that a child is missing, or an adult – and they can’t communicate with us, our officers would be able to pull up this database and they would be able to put in certain characteristics, if (the officers) didn’t have the name.”
The officer can enter into the database an age and height range and other physical characteristics. If the person is in the police database, then options, with photos, would appear for that individual. Then police, now knowing who the person is, can go ahead and take them home.
Those registering an individual can either send in a photo or leave a voicemail, and Livesay can go out to the house and pick up the photo.
“We usually try to get as many emergency contacts as we can,” he said, including parents, grandparents and other people who are close to the individual being registered – just in case.
The program has been successful elsewhere.
“This really allows us to have instant information at our fingertips,” Livesay said.
He gave an example of the type of situation officers want to resolve quickly.
“About three years ago, we had a young girl who’s a resident of the Island – she’s nonverbal – and she took off from the house without the parents realizing it. She was probably 12 at the time, and it was February, and we were looking for her for about four or five hours. No shoes, just socks, no jacket. We had helicopters out, we had multiple agencies, and it was actually one of the Border Patrol officers” who found her on Stony Point, north of Ransom Road.
“This is a tool that is just an added layer for us to be able to help the community, and it doesn’t cost us a thing,” he said. At the seminar, Livesay said the presenters were giving copies of the disc to any emergency service agencies that wanted a copy of it.
“We are going to offer the Sheriff’s Office and the State Police that are also on the Island to be able to put the software on their patrol cars,” he said.
Both agencies had participants who went to the same seminar he attended.