New law would help locate missing elderly and disabled residents
WEST ORANGE, NJ – Acting Governor Richard J. Codey today signed into law a bill that would make New Jersey one of just roughly a dozen states in the nation to establish a statewide alert system for reporting information on a missing person believed to be suffering from dementia or other cognitive impairments.
“With the Amber Alert proving so effective in protecting some of our most vulnerable, our children, the Silver Alert is a smart next step in protecting another vulnerable segment of our population, the elderly and disabled,” said Acting Governor Codey (D-Essex).
Acting Governor Codey signed the bill at Green Hill Nursing Home in West Orange, where he was joined by some of the bills sponsors, as well as representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association and AARP.
Each year, more than 400 people with dementia and other cognitive disorders go missing in New Jersey. According to nationwide statistics published by the Alzheimer’s Association, up to half of such cases end in injury or death when the missing person is not found within 24 hours.
Bill A2844/S1844, which was unanimously approved by both houses of the Legislature, calls for a “Silver Alert” system to be established, similar to the nationally recognized Amber Alert, in the event that a person is missing and believed to be suffering from dementia or another cognitive disorder.
Under the law’s provisions, a Silver Alert would be issued when such a person appears to have gone missing and a missing person’s report has been filed; the missing person is believed to be in danger; there is reason to believe the alert will help locate the person, and there is information available that could help find them.
If a Silver Alert is issued for a missing person, consenting media outlets in the region in which the person went missing would be asked to disseminate a description of the missing person, along with contact information for the relevant law enforcement agencies, and any other information that the lead law enforcement agency on the alert may deem appropriate.
“This law offers a quick and efficient way to alert the public and law enforcement when someone with dementia or another cognitive disorder goes missing,” said Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson). “It is similar to the Amber Alert system in place now for missing children and we hope it will be equally successful in its recovery efforts.”
“This law represents the next frontier in missing person’s cases. I believe that a ‘Silver Alert’ program will prove to be just as effective, and furthermore a sensible, pragmatic approach to protecting our elderly citizens,” said Sen. John Girgenti (D-Passaic, Bergen).
“Time is of the essence when a loved one with dementia is missing. This legislation will allow law enforcement and the public to quickly react, hopefully ensuring a speedy rescue of the individual,” said Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Mercer, Middlesex).
“Unfortunately, it’s common for an elderly loved one suffering from dementia and other ailments to wander,” said Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This can be dangerous and even life-threatening for our loved ones and stressful for caregivers and family. This new system would be a common sense step toward protecting those who deserve our best, the elderly.”
“This offers a quick way to alert the public and law enforcement about missing individuals with impairments, and time is often of the essence in these situations, so we should do anything we can to help hastily distribute information,” said Assemblywoman Sandi Love (D- Camden, Gloucester).
“If other states can protect their seniors and at risk young people like this, then so should New Jersey,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden).
“Information is key in cases like this, as is time,” said Assemblywoman Caridad Rodriguez (D-Hudson). “A simple message like this can help avoid a tragedy.”
“Statistics show at least half of those with dementia who wander away suffer serious injury or death if not found within 24 hours,” said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester, Camden). “That’s reason enough to get this into law.”
“Protecting the most vulnerable members of our society is the right thing to do, and this is a simple step that we know can work,” said Assemblywoman Elease Evans (D-Passaic).
“The Silver Alert Law is not only something that is common sense, but reflects society’s compassion and concern for those with a cognitive impairment. Similar types of alerts for at-risk groups have proven to be invaluable in preventing harm to an individual and alleviating the anxiety felt by their loved ones. This legislation reflects government’s ability to work cooperatively with law enforcement and the media in striving to protect people who may find themselves vulnerable as a result of their impairment. It will truly help save lives,” said Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk (R-Bergen).
Each Silver Alert would be led by the law enforcement agency that received the missing persons report. The Division of State Police, Missing Persons and Child Exploitation Unit, however, would, upon request, assume the role of lead law enforcement agency for a Silver Alert. The law also requires the NJ Department of Transportation, the NJ Highway Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority to inform the public through highway message sign alerts if the missing person is driving a vehicle at the time they disappear and accurate information about the vehicle is available.
The law will go into effect July 1, 2010.