The San Mateo Police Department has launched a new voluntary vulnerable person registry for San Mateo residents, giving officers updated information about people with special needs during an emergency call.
The Project Guardian program allows caregivers and loved ones to complete a form detailing personal information, medical history and a photograph distributed to first responders before arrival at the scene. At a Sept. 16 press conference, San Mateo Police Chief Ed Barberini called the program a significant step forward to better prepare officers and help interactions.
“Our department recognizes that one of the most critical responsibilities we have is protecting those most vulnerable members of our community,” Barberini said. “We recognize these vulnerable members may have cognitive impairments, special needs or developmental issues that require a very specific response from law enforcement.”
The registry will give officers quick access to critical information about a registered person in an emergency, with people with Alzheimer’s, autism, developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities available to be on the register. Registering will require the person’s name, date of birth, physical description, diagnosis, language spoken and a photo. Once the department enters the information into the system, the applicant will receive an email confirmation. After enrollment, the department will send a sticker for placement at the residence to let officers know someone who lives there is registered with Project Guardian. The department will maintain a record management system that it will keep confidential unless the information released is required by law.
Barberini noted people could often be frightened by police, with the information helping officers calm, locate or help someone unable to communicate effectively in an emergency.
“The supply of information will help officers avoid causing undue stress and aggravation by alerting them that the person they are about to encounter has a condition that may affect this type of response,” Barberini said.
“Effective policing is about collaboration, and what’s at the heart of this program is collaboration,” Deputy Mayor Diane Papan said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the [program] kickoff.”
San Mateo resident Gloria Brown has worked with Barberini on the program and encouraged more training for officers. She cited a police interaction years ago involving her husband, who had dementia, as a good example of how the new program and more training can help ensure better interactions and resolutions.
“I just want to get the word out so we can tell our families that this program is available,” Brown said. “I wish it had been available when my husband had his crisis. They would have at least known that this person had cognitive issues, and that’s why he is acting out.”
The incident occurred before Barberini’s arrival as chief and was a factor in his working to improve officer training and initiatives dealing with vulnerable community members. He called Project Guardian one step in a progression to help vulnerable people.
“I am very proud of the men and woman who serve here,” Barberini said. “They are very conscious of the needs of those that they serve and have become more and more familiar in recognizing characteristics or symptoms of someone who may be dealing with something that is a little out of the ordinary.”
All officers in September 2020 completed the Alzheimer’s Association Education Center’s class “Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia;” to recognize the differences between the two and, in May 2022, pursued specialized training in Autism Spectrum Disorder. In December 2021, it became part of San Mateo County’s Community Wellness and Crisis Response Pilot Project, in which a mental health clinician works with officers to help those facing a mental health crisis and provide follow-up help.
People can go to cityofsanmateo.org/4657/Project-Guardian for more information about the initiative.
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