LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A new alert program to help find missing seniors is going into effect in the new year.
The new “Silver Alert” program was enacted through SB 1047, legislation introduced by state Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) and Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), and sponsored by the California Senior Legislature.
The legislation, approved earlier this year, allows law enforcement to request endangered missing advisories – dubbed “Silver Alerts” – for missing seniors.
The Silver Alert program will be coordinated by the California Highway Patrol, which also operates California’s Amber Alert system, meant to help find missing children, according to Jaime Coffee, a spokesperson for the CHP’s Sacramento Office.
Coffee said the Silver Alert program will use the existing Amber Alert system, with the main difference being that the Emergency Alert System – which breaks in on television and radio broadcasts – won’t be used for Silver Alerts. Changeable message signs on highways also won’t be used.
Local law enforcement agencies would request the alerts for missing persons, age 65 and older, if certain criteria are met, said Coffee.
Those criteria, according to the CHP, include that the person is missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances or the law enforcement agency believes the person is in danger due to age, health, mental or physical disability, environment or weather conditions; the person is in the company of a potentially dangerous person; or there are other factors indicating that the person may be in peril.
Any information available about the senior also would be shared with the public, said Coffee.
The program could prove especially valuable in Lake County where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data for 2011, just over 18 percent of the population is age 65 or older, above the 13 percent senior population average for the rest of the nation.
Lake County’s law enforcement is gearing up to be ready to use the new alerts if needed.
Lakeport Police Chief Brad Rasmussen called the new alert “a good thing.”
He didn’t have statistics handy on how often his agency gets reports of seniors who have walked away from home or otherwise gone missing, but he felt the new alerts will help with those cases.
Rasmussen’s staff has attended a legislative update to learn about new laws for 2013, including SB 1047, which now is included Government Code 8594.10.
There had been unsuccessful attempts to pass similar Silver Alert legislation – which has been enacted in a number of other states – in California previously.
Alquist had introduced such a bill in 2009, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.
In October 2011, the California Senior Legislature adopted the Silver Alert as its top legislative priority.
The Silver Alert was preceded in 2011 by the “Blue Alert,” which Coffee said is meant to notify citizens when a suspect who has assaulted or killed a law enforcement officer remains at large.
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.