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Sheriff Announces New Program To Help Locate Lost and Endangered Individuals

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Sheriff  James A. McVicker has announced a new program he is implementing to better serve the citizens of Bladen County.

”We are initiating a new program we are calling Operation “Find The Lost” Human Scent Bank,” said McVicker. “This program is a volunteer program aimed at providing “known” scent articles to a Sheriff’s K9 for “at risk” citizens in our community should they become lost.”

With the number of Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients growing every day added to the increase in Autism in our children, the potential for them to go missing is greater than that of the average person. The stories of the missing and lost too often end in tragedy but, according to Sheriff McVicker, there is now a chance to change the odds in our favor.

The American Pediatrics Association states that children with autism have a 50% chance of going missing at least once before the age of 17 and the Alzheimer’s Association website says 6 out of 10 persons with Alzheimer’s will wander away from their homes at least once in their lives.

The program being implemented and maintained by the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office will help locate the missing in a more timely fashion.  The prevention of death and safe return of a missing person can be facilitated with the use of a human scent collection kit. These kits provide an uncontaminated scent for K-9 units to track which raises the likelihood of a successful track of the missing individual. Kits like these are being used by agencies with amazing results, returning the missing home to their families.

At Risk Citizens are defined as a citizen of any age that suffers from some type of Cognitive Impairment. This also includes children with Autism, Down Syndrome or other cognitive impairments.

“These kits, when properly stored, will be good for two years,” said Sheriff McVicker. “Once the program is up and running we will be glad to come to care facilities, schools, or to individual homes if necessary to collect the samples.”

McVicker said the process would work like this: First the individual would sign a waiver or a parent, guardian or custodian would sign or an immediate family member. The authorization would specify that the Human Scent collected would only be used for K9 tracking and for no other law enforcement purpose. The authorization form would also include basic biographical information on the person whose scent is collected.

The collection would be done by a member of the Sheriff’s Office staff. To insure a good sample, the collector will wear nitrile/latex gloves and a sterile gauze pad will be used. The scent sample will be obtained by wiping the face, neck, and if able, under the arms of the participant with the sterile gauze. . A family member may also perform this procedure if it is needed (members of opposite sex, or if the “at risk” citizen is uncomfortable with the collecting officer) as long as collection procedures are followed.

The gauze pad with the scent will then be placed in an air tight container and labeled with the participant’s information. The samples will be maintained in a secure evidence storage area at the Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff’s office evidence technician will monitor the samples and contact those involved to get new samples every two years. Participants or their family can opt out of the program at any time and the sample will be destroyed.

“This is just another tool we can put in our arsenal,” said Sheriff McVicker. “Like many tools, we hope we never have to use them but if we do they will be available.”

McVicker credited Warsaw, NC Chief of Police Eric Southerland with helping get the program started. “Chief Southerland started a similar program in Warsaw and he offered to help us get our program going. So many times I am able to reach out to others in the law enforcement community to help us. A lot can be said for years of experience and networking with officers I know and have worked with over the years.”

McVicker said, “Anyone interested in participating in the program Please call the Sheriff’s Office and ask for Investigator Shawn Gibson who will assist in organizing a collection site or getting individual samples. Gibson can be reached at 910-862-6960. Let us help you and your family.”

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