SCHENECTADY — Jesenia Rivera reached down and touched the charm on her shoe Wednesday as her mother explained the importance of the charm in keeping her safe.
Jesenia's mother Sherain Rivera had just signed the 5-year-old up for a new Schenectady Police Department program designed to get children and adults like Jesenia back home safe if they ever get lost.
Jesenia has autism, and like many with it may have trouble communicating to police important information like her name and where she lives. The program, officials said, is geared toward individuals who might have a developmental or cognitive disability like autism or Alzheimer's disease.
Through the new program, called Take Me Home, parents and caregivers can now file important information with the Police Department, along with the individual's photo and caregiver contact information should the need arise.
Families will also get a charm with a unique identifying number that the individuals can wear as another layer of identification.
"I feel excited, I feel very safe, because she wanders off a lot," Sherain Rivera said after signing her daughter up and placing the charm on her daughter's shoe, "It just really feels good to know that we have an ID that can identify her."
The program was created by the Pensacola Police Department in Florida.
Officers will have access to the database from their cars and will be able to match a person to his or her description or photo to contact family or caregivers.
The engraved charm, which is being provided through a partnership with Northeastern Fine Jewelry, can also be worn on the shoe or around the wrist to point officers to the database information.
To sign up, parents and caregivers can download the Take Me Home form at SchenectadyPD.com and return it with a photo. They can get the form at the police station or from an officer on patrol. Patrol officers have the capability to sign people up from the cars, including taking a picture.
Police Chief Eric Clifford said the program is an example of using technology to allow officers to better respond to vulnerable individuals, keep them safe and treat members of the community with dignity and respect.
State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, praised the program in announcing it. He has a son with autism and hopes to get other communities in his district on board with the program. Some other departments in the area already offer the program, including Guilderland and Niskayuna.
"It's very real in our community and something that can happen anywhere, any time," Santabarbara said. "We hear about things like this happening and we want to make a difference here in Schenectady."
Janine Kruiswijk, executive director of the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region, said she sees the program as important to safety. Individuals who wander are in danger.
"This will really work well to ensure that our loved ones are returned safely, unharmed and that we have a very good outcome," she said.
City police Lt. Michael McLaughlin signed up the Riveras in a patrol SUV. The mother gave the officer her daughter's information from the passenger seat while McLaughlin entered it into the database and Jesenia sat on her lap.
When they were done, Jesenia got to move the SUV's spot lights.
Sherain Rivera said the charm will now be added to her daughter's instructions if she ever gets lost.
"Let them know that you're lost," Rivera said of what her instructions will be, "and that you have a device and you need to find your mom."