Registry helps protect the vulnerable

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

Sgt. Jim Sawkins has seen first-hand the problem that occurs when a police officer encounters someone who is lost, confused or suffering from dementia or mental health problems.

"We get calls all the time from people saying 'I just saw an elderly person who looks confused.' We get there," says the officer, " and you're lucky if you can get a name from them and then you have to check out all the local retirement homes and see if they're missing."

Add to that that a police uniform can be intimidating to people who are in a state of confusion, whether they're dealing with Alzheimer's or an acquired brain injury.

So a group of local agencies has banded together to create an aid for police officers who are on the streets.

The Vulnerable Persons Registry is a new tool that provides police with a current photo and address but includes other useful information, including triggers to avoid problems and the person's likes and dislikes.

"It will allow an officer to build some rapport with the person," says Sawkins.

"There are numerous times I could have used it."

Those behind the new registry include Contact Brant, the Alzheimer Society, Community Living Brant, the St. Leonard's Society, Lansdowne Children's Centre, Woodview, and the Family Counselling Centre, along with the Brantford Police Service.

Sawkins said police currently have a binder of information on locals who are considered "wandering" but the new system will encompass many other symptoms and will have the ability for photos and information to be transmitted directly to the investigating officer.

"The hope is that we never have to use the information, but if we do get a call it will be at our disposal."

Sawkins said privacy issues have been taken into account with the creation of the registry.

"This isn't a police-driven initiative. We're a community partner but people can be certain the information is only accessible to the police and then, only by our communications section, which will be able to access the registry.

"There will be very strict rules on the use of the information and we know the integrity of the program relies on that."

A person doesn't have to be connected with an agency in order to register a vulnerable person. Anyone who feels a loved one could be alone on the streets due to autism, cerebral palsy, an acquired brain injury or dementia can register them.

Sawkins said a caregiver can go to the website - - choose Brantford and fill out the online form. Each year the caregiver will get a reminder to update and re-register the information and files will be pulled after a time if there's no response.