FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Your phone starts buzzing and you look down to see a Public Safety Alert notification. In Fort Wayne, the ones the police department sends are often asking for help finding a missing person.
“Typically those are sent out with a high risk factor,” Sgt. Jeremy Webb, the Fort Wayne Police Department Public Information Officer, said. “The age of the kid could be young or it could be an elderly person with dementia. Or it could be really hot or really cold or the person has a physical or mental illness and we need to find the person right away.”
Not all missing people or runaway reports meet the high-risk criteria to get an alert.
“What we don’t want is the public to get inundated with so many alerts that they get tone-deaf and they turn off notifications or don’t pay attention to it,” Webb said.
The alerts are targeted to the area where the missing person is believed to be and when they are sent, the success rate is really high.
“A lot of people think we send it in error or we found them quick so we didn’t need to do it, but a lot of times we find them quick because people call in. It’s very successful. We find them very fast. It’s not that it’s not working. It’s working so well we’re able to find them quick,” Webb said.
Webb said when the missing person is found, a second notification should be sent to let everyone know they can stop looking. But, that doesn’t always happen.
“We should do it every time,” Webb said. “Sometimes it’s an oversight. [The officers] are busy and they go on to the next problem and it’s forgotten to be relayed to dispatch. Ideally, we’d send an update that they’re found. Usually, they’re found safe, so it would update that they’re safe and sound, and thank you to everyone who helped.”
The alerts work best when the person hasn’t been missing for very long.
“Time is a factor. If someone’s been missing for 24 or 48 hours, will this be as effective? Probably not,” Webb said. “It’s been too long to pin them down to a certain locality.”
But, at the same time, the alerts aren’t sent haphazardly.
“Just be mindful that we’ve exhausted looking and calling family and friends. It’s not something we go to right away,” Webb said. “So we’ve done A, B, C, D, and E and still can’t find that person. Then we send the alert. If we’re sending the alert out we’ve exhausted other options. Please don’t be tone-deaf to those. I know they can be annoying, but they are helpful.”
The police department can use the alert system for other notifications too.
“It can be used with an active shooter situation or used with a barricaded subject asking people to avoid the area or in other emergency situations or natural disasters,” Webb said. “But we try not to inundate people with that.”
The Public Safety Alerts sent by the Fort Wayne Police Departments are not Silver or Amber Alerts. Those alerts are state-wide and have a list of criteria that have to be met before one can be issued.
“Sometimes we don’t have the right criteria to meet an Amber or Silver Alert. The time-lapse is short and it’s local. So, let’s do a public alert warning and see if we can find these people,” Webb said.
Webb wasn’t sure when the department first got the alert technology but said the department’s really used it frequently in the last two years.