Lebanon police launch voluntary registry for people with special needs

Valley News Correspondent
Friday, February 22, 2019

LEBANON — The Lebanon Police Department this week launched a voluntary registry for residents with special needs, allowing community members to provide information about symptom triggers and other possible accommodations through an online portal.

The program builds on the department’s existing database of community members with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello said the registry will help inform emergency responders in their work, whether that means not using sirens in certain situations or properly preparing for a certain individual’s specific needs.

Mello said the department also plans to increase its training to “have the tools ... necessary to respond to a variety of different situations with people with special needs.”

He added that the new training will coincide with the department’s “crisis and dementia” training already in practice.

The department’s dispatchers and officers will have access to the information logged in the database, he said.

The idea for the registry originally came from members of the Special Needs Support Center in Lebanon, Mello said.

Laura Perez, the executive director at SNSC, in turn said the genesis for the idea came from parents.

Parents of children with disabilities originally raised their fears about emergency responders at parent-to-parent peer support groups, according to Perez.

She said she brought the concerns to members of the police department’s dispatch team during a training meeting in late fall.

“Together we realized that this was an opportunity for us to address some of the concerns of parents and also to protect the police force from not having enough information about situations upon arrival,” Perez said.

Parents of children with disabilities have concerns that a tendency to avoid eye contact or another communication impairment might “appear suspicious” to police if they don’t have prior knowledge about the person with whom they are interacting, Perez said in a news release about the initiative.

She said the conversation evolved quickly through continued discussions with the police department.

“It was very much a collaborative process that brought us to this project,” Perez said.

Perez, who joined SNSC two years ago, said the support network’s work is largely parent-focused.

The police department’s database currently is open to submissions of information, including emergency contacts and photographs, from community members with special needs regardless of age. Family members also can submit information.

“Just like the Alzheimer’s and dementia registration, it provides us with information which we think is critical to being able to provide the services to our community,” Mello said of the special needs registry.

Information can be entered into the database at www.lebanonnh.gov/specialneeds, and officers in the police department are available to help community members complete the form.

Mello said the registry will be useful when responding to various situations such as missing persons. He said the department does not have any immediate plans to expand its database beyond the special needs registry but is open to other possibilities.

“We had the Alzheimer’s registry for many, many years, and this is now coming on board, so there’s always possibilities for expanding it in the future, depending on ... things that we identify,” Mello said. “If there’s another opportunity out there to expand this or to mold some other issue into this database, we’ll certainly do that.”

The Grantham Police department also offers a single-page form for residents to fill out in case they are concerned about a person with Alzheimer’s disease or with special needs who might wander off, become lost or have a medical emergency.