Lincoln Police try out new program to locate and bring home children with autism

LINCOLN, Neb. - After years of waiting, Vicki Depenbusch said she's relieved to hear the beeps of a frequency locator. The piece of equipment is part of the Project Lifesaver program. She said she, and Autism Family Network, have been working to bring the Program to Lancaster County for three years.

"It's almost overwhelming, because I know how much it means to families," Depenbusch said. "As a mother of a child with autism myself, I know my biggest fear when he was little was him going missing."

The program works by having a child with autism wear a bracelet that emits a unique frequency. That frequency can be picked up by law enforcement should the child go missing. LPD said searching for a missing child takes time and effort the department doesn't always have.

"Especially in these big neighborhoods, it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack," said Sgt. Tyler Cooper. "It takes away our resources, especially manpower and time, because we might spend 3-4 hours looking while also trying to respond to other calls for service."

Project Lifesaver said the average time it takes to locate a child through its program is 30 minutes.

"I've been on searches that have taken over 8 hours, which is expensive and time consuming, so that 30 minutes as opposed to hours is valuable," Depenbusch said.

The pilot program will allow for 20 children with autism to try out the bracelets. Once LPD and LSO are fully trained, they plan on expanding the program to include anyone who is prone to wandering, including adults with dementia and Alzheimer's.