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Minnesota Legislature

Help to find missing people

Published (3/6/2009)
By Mike Cook
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Deputy Jonathan Jacobson from the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office, left, and Bruce Kennedy testify before the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee March 3 in support of a bill that would establish a voluntary statewide advisory task force to administer a lifesaver response grant program to help locate lost or wandering persons who are mentally impaired. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)The name Keith Kennedy may not be familiar to many people, but his story is.

The 25-year-old with autism walked away from a camp near Grantsburg, Wis., last June. He was missing for seven days before being found lying in brush less than a mile away.

“There are few worse feelings for a parent than your child being missing,” his father, Bruce, told the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee March 3.

Hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement personnel searched for Keith, whose communication skills are extremely limited. The cost of the search was in the $300,000-$400,000 range, Bruce Kennedy said.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Welti (DFL-Plainview) would make strides towards ensuring that no family has to go through Kennedy’s experience.

HF622 would establish a voluntary statewide advisory task force within the Department of Public Safety to administer a lifesaver response grant program. Funds would come from the state or private donations.

Counties alone or counties paired with local units of governments would be able to apply for grants that could only be used for an emergency response kit and training. The recipients would pick up operational costs.

The programs are designed to quickly find individuals who go missing and have medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or autism. “Lives will be saved, fewer families will grieve over a death of a child, parent or grandparent. Time spent searching for missing individuals will be greatly reduced,” Welti said.

Approved by the committee, it is headed to the House State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections Committee. A companion, SF1138, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader David Senjem (R-Rochester), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Brad Trahan, co-founder of the RT Autism Awareness Foundation in Rochester, showed a transponder bracelet — about the size of a wristwatch — that a person wears. “Each has a frequency that you can track up to one mile on the ground or up to 10 miles in the air,” he said. Using a tracking device, authorities plug in to the frequency. On average, people are found in less than 30 minutes. Since a program in Olmsted County began in April 2007, 50 people have signed up. There were eight calls last year.

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