Branson Police use new app to better interact with people with disabilities

Department leaders say it’s all about helping them better serve locals and visitors.
Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 4:16 PM CDT
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BRANSON, Mo. (KY3) - Branson Police are using new technology to better interact with people with special needs. Officers have an app called Vitals on their cellphones. Department leaders say it’s all about helping them better serve locals and visitors.

“It’s an electronic form of an early warning for our officers to equip them with more information going into a situation, than what they’d normally have, with anyone who suffers from an invisible illness,” Assistant Police Chief Eric Schmitt said.

Branson Police Department is one of less than 100 agencies nationwide now using the new technology. The app alerts officers when they’re close to someone wearing a Vitals Bluetooth device, such as a bracelet. Information pops up on the officer’s screen with the person’s disability and even personalized messages from a caregiver to help officers react appropriately. For example, a parent can load a calming video that officers can use to help communicate with a child with autism.

“That’s something mom and dad know that me, the cop, I’m not going to have a clue. What did they do? They pre-loaded this [video]. He will recognize it and it will help calm him down,” Assistant Chief Schmitt said.

Assistant Chief Schmitt says the app is all about safety, as his department typically responds to several mental illness related issues each week.

“There is not a police officer in this country that goes to work hoping to have to put hands on someone with an invisible illness,” Assistant Chief Schmitt said.

Local dad Jeremy Rouch has a 20 year old daughter with autism. He says the more others know about people with disabilities, the safer the entire community is.

“We are going to have to understand how to interact with people with developmental disabilities,” Rouch said.

Families can also use the app to help keep their loved ones safer. Rouch says the app will alert him when his daughter is wandering away.

“It will alert us when she is 80 to 100 feet away from us,” Rouch said. “A lot of protection and security.”

Branson is a pilot city for this program. Because of that, Branson officers have the app for free on their phones during the first year. Typically, the app costs about $10 per officer per month. However, the local Vietnam Veterans group has agreed to cover the cost of the second and third years, which comes out to about $10,000 total.

For families, the app costs about $5 per month. Vitals devices range from $20 to $40. However, the first 40 families to sign up in the Branson area get a free Vitals device.

“Across the country, this is a game changer for us, if we can get it widely adapted,” Assistant Chief Schmitt said.

Click HERE for information on how to get a free device and sign your family up for Vitals.

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