Among the most unpredictable, as well as dangerous, situations sheriff’s deputies and police officers face is when they are dealing with someone in a state of mental distress that’s associated with a chronic disability or condition that affects their judgment and actions.
A state law that went into effect on January 1 is intended to reduce the risks to law enforcers and the people they interact with by allowing local officials to establish a database of individuals with conditions that may affect their behavior.
The intention is that making information such as names of people with relevant medical conditions and emergency contact information available can help first responders better understand who they are dealing with and what kinds of behaviors and situations they may be able to prepare for.
Known as the ‘Protect Our Loved Ones Act,’ the new law makes it legal for local jurisdictions to maintain registries of people who suffer from psychological or cognitive conditions such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, legislation like this in Florida and other states can have a positive impact and save lives because about 60 percent of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s will wander away from their home base and interact with the outside world in unpredictable ways.
“These registries will provide some peace of mind for caregivers and an extra level of protection for those impacted by Alzheimer’s and other dementia,” said Alex Anderson, vice president of public policy at the Alzheimer’s Association Florida chapters. “This is an excellent first step to a larger push for law enforcement agencies to have the tools and resources to better support the more than 580,000 Floridians living with Alzheimer’s and 827,000 family caregivers.”
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office provides a way for residents to be registered through its Project Safe Encounter program. Conditions that may make registration appropriate include Alzheimer’s, blindness, autism, Down syndrome, deafness and other disabilities that could affect how people interact with law enforcement officers. You can learn more about the registry at www.teamhcso.com.
The legislation permitting registries was passed during the last legislative session, and related bills are being considered this year. The Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia Training for Law Enforcement Officers bill is making its way through the Florida House of Representatives as HB 801 and Florida Senate as SB 208.