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Issue No. 413 May 2017

GPS spells safety

Police in Central District have used satellite technology to help protect an autistic boy.

Senior Sergeant Karley Hunt and, right, the Spot Trace tracker.

Over three months police responded to at least 27 calls for service involving the nine-year-old running away – the third highest number relating to any individual or organisation in the area.

He was often found in dangerous environments, such as a riverside or roadside, but his situation did not meet the threshold for being taken into care. Attempts to escape-proof his home failed.

Senior Sergeant Karley Hunt, Taranaki Area Prevention Manager, contacted Christchurch GPS specialist SPOTNZ which provided a tracker – usually used as an anti-theft device - cost-free for a trial.

With the family’s consent the boy was fitted with the tracker, attached to a harness. When he roamed, police and his family were able to quickly locate him through an unlisted website.

Karley says calls for service immediately stopped. The tracker also unexpectedly highlighted serious, previously unrecognised, care and protection issues with the home environment and this contributed to the boy being taken into care.

The tracker is now managed by disability specialists supporting the boy. He still tries to escape at times, says Karley, but is said to be doing well.

“We no longer have to deal with this child, where it used to be all the time,” says Karley. “We might still be running round after him today because we didn’t have the evidence to get him somewhere safer. Ultimately safety was what it was all about.”

Karley urges other staff to consider GPS technology in such cases. “If we had another case like this, or involving dementia patients, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.”

Tony Glentworth, of SPOTNZ, says the device supplied had an advantage over cell-based trackers – such as those used for Alzheimers patients - because the boy was going to areas with poor cell coverage.

He says he was pleased to help reduce demand on police and help a vulnerable member of the community.

“I’ve got a 12-year-old daughter and I would hope there was someone out there to help her if she had this sort of need,” he says. “I was able to help, so I did.”


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