TRENTON – A bill that would establish a statewide system for quickly sending out to the public information on a missing person believed to be suffering from dementia or some other cognitive impairment was approved 5-0 today by the Senate Law and Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Sponsored by Senator John Girgenti, D-Passaic, the chairman of the committee, and Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, D-Hudson, the committee substitute for their bill (S-1844) would be a voluntary, cooperative effort between state and local law enforcement agencies and the media, similar to the existing Amber Alert program for missing children.
The bill provides for the issuance of a Silver Alert if a person is missing and is believed to be suffering from dementia or another cognitive disorder; 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.
“Every year more than 400 persons with dementia and other cognitive disorders go missing in New Jersey,” Senator Girgenti said. “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.”
The committee substitute approved today expands the issuance of Silver Alerts to people under the age of 65, but seeks to limit the issuance of alerts in several ways. It will only apply to missing persons with dementia or another cognitive impairment and only in cases involving the risk of serious injury or death. It also calls for the media to take a targeted approach in disseminating the information rather than requiring participating media to broadcast alerts as often as possible for the first three hours of the alert.
“Our bill offers a quick way to alert the public and law enforcement when someone with dementia or another cognitive disorder goes missing,” Cunningham said. “It is similar to the Amber Alert system in place now for missing children.”
The committee substitute would require the N.J. Department of Transportation, the N.J. Highway Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority to inform the public through highway message sign alerts only if the missing person is driving a vehicle at the time they disappear and accurate information about the vehicle is available.
“This is another provision added to the bill to make sure we achieve our goal of quickly finding missing persons while making sure we don’t overtax our law enforcement resources or the attention of the public,” Girgenti said.
Cunningham noted the changes incorporated in the committee substitute were suggested by the Attorney General’s Office, which supports the bill, along with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
“Participation of media outlets is voluntary, and crucial to the success of this type of alert program,” Cunningham said. “An unduly large volume of alerts might also diminish the public’s interest and the effectiveness of the system.”
The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.