Tennessee's new Silver Alert causing some confusion

Tennessee's new Silver Alert causing some confusion

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By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

NASHVILLE (WATE) -- It's not uncommon to hear stories about elderly people who suffer from a form of dementia going missing from their homes.

In March 2008, Charles Reid, 80, of Knox County, didn't show up for choir practice. He suffered from dementia. Workers found his body in a Union County mine four days later.

In August 2008, Lottie Davis, 70, went missing from her home in Knox County. She suffers from the early stages of Alzheimer's. Searchers found her alive 12 hours later in a ditch. 

Stories like these are the reason why this summer, Tennessee became the ninth state to implement a Silver Alert system.

It's similar to an Amber Alert, but it's for missing senior citizens with impaired mental conditions.

The only thing Tennessee's Silver Alert requires is that local law enforcement report the missing person to the National Crime Information Center within four hours.

The new law also suggests contacting the media, as well as non-profits like "A Child is Missing" telephone alert system and the Alzheimer's Association.

"We went into it this way knowing it wasn't perfect, but this is much, much better than the zero we had," says state Rep. Jim Hackworth (D-Anderson County), who drafted the bill.

"We've got a formal program in place now that's in the statute that leans towards encouraging the right thing to be done and accomplished, where as before you were hanging onto the hopes that law enforcement and others would step up and do this," Rep. Hackworth says.

"We pull out all the stops to find someone who's gone missing," explains Blount County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Marian O'Briant.

Blount County has long been doing almost everything in the Silver Alert, but like other local law enforcement agencies, hadn't heard much about the specifics of the new law.

"If it's something that's going to impact us, we usually know about it. We're kept up to date," O'Briant says.

The Knox County Office on Aging also had questions. "I heard about it a little while ago, but we hadn't really seen any activity on it," says Aging Services Manager Marie Alcorn.

Rep. Hackworth admits, communication has been a problem. "I blame that on media to some degree, but I also blame it on the state, in the fact that we're not equipped or set up to get the word out on every change that's made in Nashville."

Now that the word is out on the Silver Alert, Blount County is doing even more.

"It sounds like it adds additional resources for us, as far as working with the Alzheimer's Association. We have talked to them and they have said they're going to provide training for us as far additional things we can do," O'Briant says.

Advocates say anything that raises awareness is important.

"It's just a good idea for the whole community to understand that more and more, with the increased population, there are going to be more situations where seniors are going to get in trouble," Alcorn says.

6 News spoke with the Knoxville Police Department and the Knox County Sheriff's Office. They thought the Silver Alert program was handled through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Rep. Hackworth says that was originally part of the plan, along with using highway message boards. However, those measures had to be cut due to a lack of state funds.

Hackworth says he hopes to add to the bill, possibly bringing more money to the Silver Alert program.

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