A Santa Monica Police Department squad car leaves the Public Safety Facility on Tuesday. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)

Amid increasing scrutiny of law enforcement officers’ interactions with citizens, the Santa Monica Police Department has expanded its voluntary registry in an attempt to assist needy residents and their families.

Originally designed to help seniors with memory issues, the recently revamped registry is now accepting online entries and open to disabled people and other residents who think it would be helpful for local police to have their information, emergency contacts and photos.

“We would help someone who doesn’t recall where they live or maybe can’t speak because of an injury,” said Lauralee Asch, SMPD crime prevention coordinator. “We take a shot in the dark that they’ve registered.”

Asch did not have statistics readily available, but said the department regularly fields calls about missing people. She said she expects that hundreds of Santa Monicans will use the service.

The registry was initially built with entries that seniors submitted by hand when police held outreach events at assisted living facilities and social service centers. For instance, officials meet regularly with elderly citizens at WISE & Healthy Aging to discuss fraud, pedestrian safety and other issues affecting seniors.

But authorities believe the Web option will make it easier for more people to sign up for the registry.

“Now, by having it accessible at home, we’re hoping it’s more useful,” Asch said.

For example, the relative of someone who has a developmental disability or suffers from memory loss can submit that person’s photo and information, including physical descriptions like height, weight, hair color and eye color. The contact information of a significant other or caretaker is also requested. None of the information is shared, Asch said.

Officers who come across people who are lost, disoriented or in need of assistance can access the database from their cars and search by physical attributes.

“It’s very common to have somebody get away from their house or group, we find them wandering around and they can remember their name but not where they live,” Asch said. “Officers often go out on a hunt to try to figure out where someone really lives. This is a tool that can help them.”

Each registration must be renewed annually, but police will send a reminder to the email address on file before it expires.

The expansion of the registry was welcome news for Paula Fern, chair of the city Commission for the Senior Community.

Fern, whose commission aims to improve quality of life for Santa Monicans ages 60 and up, said she had not been in direct contact with local police about the registry, but added that it could play an important role in helping seniors.

“Considering the fact that the aging population is growing and that the presence of older adults with dementia will grow, this is a very good and needed service,” she said. “We’re very thankful for the Santa Monica police who are noticing the need. … Any initiative that can connect people with their loved ones is a very good thing.”

The registry was also seen as a valuable resource for the local disabled community. Christofer Arroyo, chair of the city Disabilities Commission, said it enhances Santa Monica’s track record of welcoming people with disabilities.

“I think it’s great that the City provides an option for individuals with disabilities to provide their information for the registry,” he said. “It demonstrates the City’s commitment to including individuals with disabilities in all aspects of living in the community; and in this case, the health and safety needs of individuals with disabilities.

“With projects like the registry and a completed universally accessible playground, with one more in the planning stages, it makes me proud to live in Santa Monica where people of all abilities are valued and real, concrete steps are taken to ensure it.”

The revamping of the local police department’s registry comes after several controversial interactions between authorities and disabled people.

The county of San Diego recently finalized a $1 million settlement in a lawsuit stemming from a 2012 incident in which a sheriff’s deputy used pepper spray and a metal baton on a man with Down syndrome. The deputy reportedly didn’t realize the man’s disability until after arresting him.

Last month, an autistic man in England won a settlement resulting from a 2011 incident in which he was arrested and detained for six hours following a misunderstanding over a hug.

Asch said these and other similar incidents did not impact the department’s decision to expand its adult registry.

“We just became more understanding that you don’t have to be a senior to need our help,” Asch said. “It was too limiting. Now we’ve broadened our reach.”

To submit an entry, visit www.santamonicapd.org/adultregistry.

jeff@www.smdp.com

 

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