By Michelle Diament ~ disabilityscoop.com
Police departments nationwide will be able to make the tracking devices available to children in their communities who are at risk of wandering using money available through the Justice Department’s Byrne grant program, officials at the federal agency said.
Byrne is an existing program that law enforcement agencies routinely tap to pay for everything from crime prevention programs to officer training and equipment like police radios and lights for emergency vehicles.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that his office had determined that Byrne funding could be used for tracking devices.
“Byrne grant money can be made and will be made available for the purchase of these devices,” Holder told a U.S. Senate panel.
The commitment came in response to a request from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. The New York Democrat was prompted to act after 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, who had autism, went missing from his New York City school in October and was recently found dead.
Now it’s starting to become clearer how communities can obtain the funds Holder referenced.
Police should go through the same process they typically utilize to seek funding from the federal Byrne program, according to Max Dworin, a spokesman for Schumer. Law enforcement agencies can request grant money to pay for tracking devices and to provide education and training related to the issue of wandering, he said.
“Police departments apply for these every year for a variety of local law enforcement projects,” Dworin said. “Now, essentially, the Department of Justice has opened up this funding for autism.”
All applications must go through law enforcement agencies, so organizations and schools should work with local police to put programs in place, Dworin said. Police departments that receive money through the federal grant will be responsible for designing and administering their local program and determining how tracking devices are distributed.
The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance approved nearly $280 million in funding through the Byrne program in 2013. It’s unclear how much money could go toward tracking devices.
Separately, Schumer has proposed federal legislation that would allocate $10 million in dedicated funds to pay for the technology. Schumer’s bill calls for devices to be made available to families wishing to monitor those with autism or other developmental disorders who are at risk for wandering.
Justice Department spokesman Kevin Lewis did not provide clarification Wednesday about whether the new opportunity through the Byrne grant program would be limited to people with autism or if funds could be requested to be used for tracking devices for individuals with other types of developmental disabilities as well.
Research indicates that about half of children with autism are prone to wandering. Electronic tracking devices can be worn as a bracelet, attached to a shoe or belt loop or even sewn into a person’s clothing. In the event that an individual goes missing, a caregiver can call the monitoring company associated with the device in order to locate the person.
Many families already utilize tracking devices, but advocates say the technology can be cost prohibitive and note that a monthly fee is often involved.
Under an existing plan, the Justice Department provides funds to pay for similar devices for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease who are at risk for wandering.