PROJECT LIFESAVER – HOW IT MADE US A SAFER COUNTRY and Turned me from scared parent to community advocate

Guest Blog Post by Detective Christopher T. Greco, City of New Rochelle Police Department, PBA President

 

They say you cannot prove a negative, perhaps today I will. We know that autism affects 1 in 59 children. We know that too many autistic children have an attraction to water and lack a sense of fear and danger. We know that too many children drown or die other tragic deaths because of wandering. This is not a blog about statistics, so a simple Google search of wandering-related deaths will terrifyingly bring you up to speed. I will assume however that those reading this probably already know that nearly one-third of wandering incidents lead to death. Unfortunately, sometimes even the best and most prepared parents (and other caregivers) cannot stop an elopement from happening – and when it does happen, they can only pray their loved ones are found and returned home alive and well.  Perhaps prayers, coupled with hours, if not days of searching by dozens of first responders and volunteers will yield a safe return. However, perhaps being prepared ahead of an elopement will prove to be the answer to your prayers before they are even needed.  If you have a loved one who is at risk of wandering and is not enrolled in Project Lifesaver, please please please find a way to GET ENROLLED TODAY. Not tomorrow, not next week and not after the next “close call,” but RIGHT NOW!   There can be little doubt that Project Lifesaver is the most effective and well-known search,  locate and life-saving system available and is by far the most widely used and relied upon technology by law enforcement in the United States and beyond.

As a police detective and father to a severely autistic non-verbal child, I can share one story that changed my life and has since changed the lives of others in my community. While vacationing in the Jersey Shore I lost my son on the beach. But only for a minute, it was the worst 60 seconds of my life. “Gone in 60 Seconds” took on an entirely different meaning. Instead of a car thief stealing a car within 60 seconds my son was gone and in extreme life-threatening danger in 30 seconds or less.  After a quick scan of the beach, I was able to locate Christopher happily skipping and stimming along the white sands of the Jersey Shore. Thankfully, while I did not yet have Project Lifesaver, my prayers were answered, because instead of walking in the direction of the crashing waves, Christopher was walking parallel to the ocean and a good distance away.  There is, however, no doubt in my mind that Christopher likely would have passed every unsuspecting beachgoer until he reached the water and would have happily gone for his last swim.  Blending in just like every other young boy, most would not have recognized his autistic behaviors and he would have gone unnoticed straight to the water. God was with Christopher and my family that day and he has not wandered since…well maybe once more.

Immediately upon returning home, I scoured the internet looking for “something” that would alert me if Christopher got too far away from safety.  I had never heard of Project Lifesaver before my search and I can truly say it was a day that changed my life, and Christopher’s. I called Project Lifesaver and had the privilege and pleasure of speaking with Chief Gene Saunders. The Chief and I spoke for about 30 minutes and not only did he tell me more about the current technology and all the benefits of Project Lifesaver he looped me in on future products not yet released – which included their PLI-1000 and Perimeter Alarm System.  I was instantly hooked on Project Lifesaver and knew I found a new layer of security and safety.

After my call with Chief Saunders, I gathered as much information as possible and brought it to my commanders at the New Rochelle Police Department. I told them all about it and further offered to raise all the money needed to bring the program to our city. They were all in and I had their full support! I soon learned that Project Lifesaver was already available through our county police agency (which like many, I did not know) but because New Rochelle had 25 clients enrolled I thought it was appropriate that our first responders be equipped as a search agency.  The county police welcomed us as partners to the program.

And so it was, within one month I raised $15,000, purchased the equipment and had 15 New Rochelle Police Officers trained as Search Specialist.

Thankfully, we have not had many searches since implementing the program, but the four that we did locate, in my opinion, were lifesaving events.  Although I cannot prove so definitively I know (and would like you all to know) that Project Lifesaver has saved the lives of our residents and any agency that relies on Project Lifesaver is also saving lives when deploying the equipment. Instead of taking hours or days and in many instances, instead of locating loved ones dead, Project Lifesaver finds people alive and in most cases within 20 minutes of executing the search.

Project Lifesaver is not the be all end all, but in my humblest of opinion, the products offered by Project Lifesaver are far superior to any and all technology that I personally own and know of.  There are certainly other great products on the market and I do not discourage their use. I do however strongly support “layering” safety for our children with nothing but the best. Whether it’s better door locks, window, and door chimes, perimeter alarms systems, GPS Systems or a service dog, nothing is superior than Project Lifesaver in my opinion, and there is no doubt that this technology is responsible for saving thousands of lives. With a 100% success rate, who can argue that something is better?

Not only does Project Lifesaver save lives – but it also bonds communities and creates much-needed awareness. Hundreds of fundraisers are held each year throughout the United States to support Project Lifesaver International and to help fund the cost of bringing Project Lifesaver to new communities each year.   First responders, non-profits, schools, and caregivers come together because of Project Lifesaver and with one profound goal – to keep our loved ones safe. For me personally, I have learned so much from the Chief and other participating agencies and they have collectively made me a better person and better caregiver. Because of my experiences with Christopher and Project Lifesaver my wife (Tracy) and I started Christopher’s Voice – a nonprofit which in part donates Project Lifesaver equipment to families that need it most.  In addition to Christopher’s Voice – we also started the New Rochelle Police Autism Patch Challenge, which has since spread to over 300 agencies throughout the United States.  Each agency participating in our challenge transforms their police patch into a colorful puzzle piece autism shoulder patch and/or car decal and then proudly displays them during the month of April. In addition, participants sell autism awareness merchandise and donate the proceeds to local autism programs and organizations. And lastly, each participating agency assures their communities that they have or are getting the necessary training on how to recognize and respond to calls for service involving autistic people.  This past month, Christopher’s Voice sponsored a first responder training which 100 first responders attended from 35 different agencies.

None of the above would have ever been accomplished if not for that fateful day at the Jersey Shore and without my phone call to Chief Saunders.

I am extremely grateful to Chief Saunders and his entire staff at Project Lifesaver International. I know that if not for them, the tragic statistics would be much worse and our children would not be as safe.  Please join me in congratulating Project Lifesaver International on 20 years of successfully bringing loved ones home.

To learn more about Christopher’s Voice and New Rochelle Police Autism Patch Challenge, look for us on Facebook.

 

Detective Greco has been a police officer with the City of New Rochelle Police Department for twenty-three years. He served in the Patrol Services Division, Police and Community Together Unit, the Special Investigations Unit and is currently assigned to the General Investigations Unit.

Detective Greco is the recipient of numerous departmental awards including Investigator of the Year; Corporate Crime Investigator of the Year; Police Officer of the Year; Problem Solver of the Year, Police Commissioners Award; New York State Shields Hero of the Month Award; Journal News Honor Award; 11 Class “C” Citations; 4 Commendation Awards and was awarded Officer of the Month seven times.

Detective Greco implemented the New Rochelle Project Lifesaver Program, designed to track and locate lost special needs individuals. He is the President of the New Rochelle Police Association.

Detective Greco has a B.A. from Binghamton University, NY. He is married to Tracy Greco. Together they have with two children, Christopher 13 and Gabriella 7. Chris and Tracy are the founders Christopher’s Voice – a non-profit charitable foundation for autistic children.

Detective Greco is the recipient of many local awards for community service, especially for his service to the special needs community.