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What is a Purple Alert?

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Florida residents are familiar with Amber Alerts for missing children and Silver Alerts for missing senior citizens. Still, there’s now another alert, Purple Alert, to serve those living with mental and cognitive disabilities.

FDLE created this alert to engage the public and facilitate community response for those who meet specific criteria, including people with brain injuries, intellectual and developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.

What is a Purple Alert?

Florida is no stranger to color-coded alerts such as Amber, Silver, and Purple – each designed to locate missing adults with mental, cognitive, or intellectual disabilities. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s website, Purple Alerts engage the public in searching for these individuals while offering an effective community response similar to AMBER, SILVER, or Blue Alerts.

Friday saw the state issue its inaugural Purple Alert, targeting people aged 18 or over who do not meet the criteria for a Silver Alert. These individuals must possess intellectual or developmental disability, brain injury, or another physical, mental, or emotional disability unrelated to substance abuse or Alzheimer’s disease/dementia-related disorders; additionally, they are at risk of severe harm or death and require assistance from law enforcement officers for return home safety.

Lt. Andy Husar of Bay County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Response Director is delighted with this tool’s arrival, believing it will make an immense difference in finding individuals needing rescue more quickly and effectively. “Our community is so generous; this can only enhance potential rescues faster,” he stated.

Husar said the family of Josh, the missing individual whose story inspired the alert, worked tirelessly for three years to pass a law to make his attention a reality. Josh was nonverbal with an irregular gait and suffered cognitive disabilities. He wandered from home in Port St Lucie in August 2018 but has yet to return home.

Purple Alerts may only be activated by local law enforcement agencies and uploaded into the Missing Endangered Person Information Clearinghouse before being distributed by FDLE. Unlike Silver and AMBER Alerts, this type of notification does not include vehicle information.

Who is a Purple Alert for?

Florida boasts several alert systems designed to aid authorities in finding missing individuals. There are AMBER alerts issued when children go missing; Silver alerts for elderly who wander from their homes; and Blue alerts issued if someone kills or seriously injures a law enforcement officer and then flees the scene. Florida also provides Purple Alert programs targeted explicitly toward adults with mental, cognitive, or intellectual disabilities.

The Purple Alert plan was added to FDLE’s emergency alert system in 2021 to locate adults who don’t meet AMBER or Silver Alert criteria or for whom law enforcement cannot find any other evidence of their disappearance. Individuals 18 years of age or over with intellectual or developmental disabilities; brain injuries; other physical, mental, or emotional disabilities that do not relate to substance abuse; or combinations thereof are eligible.

Purple Alert information will be disseminated via emergency alerts distributed over radio and television broadcasts, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website, supermarkets/gas stations/highway message signs. Warnings will only be issued upon recommendation by local law enforcement officials. The program was introduced by two Democrats from Boynton Beach – Sen. Lori Berman and Rep. Joseph Cassello, with Governor Ron DeSantis signing it into effect last year.

After witnessing the 2018 disappearance of a Port St. Lucie man with both cognitive disability and autistic traits – nonverbal and walking with an uneven gait when they left home without telling anyone – an alert system has been devised to avoid another tragedy such as this one.

How do I get a Purple Alert?

Florida already provides Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts to alert residents when children go missing; on Friday, a Purple Alert was implemented to help locate adults with disabilities who might go missing, specifically when their condition does not include Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Law enforcement officials can request a Purple Alert from FDLE’s Missing Endangered Person Information Clearinghouse if their case meets specific criteria, and once issued, will send notifications out via media outlets and those signed up for alerts as well as appear on highway message signs and the particular section of FDLE’s website.

The Purple Alert initiative comes after Joshua Marshall, 30, died unexpectedly of cognitive disability and nonverbal communication disorders in Port St. Lucie in 2018. His body was later found in a retention pond, and Beverly Marshall advocated for legislation establishing Purple Alerts, which eventually passed into law last year.

Purple Alerts differ from Amber or Blue Alerts in that public members cannot activate them but require their caregiver to notify local law enforcement agencies within 24 hours of any disappearance of an individual they care for as missing.

The law requires law enforcement agencies to have a person-specific risk analysis when someone with disabilities goes missing, considering factors like past experiences, known vulnerabilities, medical needs, and that individual’s abilities. After completion, this report should be reviewed by an officer supervisor before being submitted to FDLE so an alert may be activated.

How long does a Purple Alert stay active?

Law enforcement agencies across Florida activate Purple Alerts when missing persons meet specific criteria. The criteria differs from Silver or Blue alerts in that Purple Alerts target adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities that do not involve Alzheimer’s disease or any form of dementia-related condition. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Emergency (FDLE) works with local media outlets to broadcast Purple Alerts via television, radio, highway message signs, and free training sessions for officers regarding this new system; anyone wanting these alerts may sign up online here.

Jenkins stresses the importance of looking for people with disabilities who may not always be able to communicate what’s going on to others, potentially leading them to wander off or be taken advantage of by someone. She stressed the need for keeping tabs on them no matter where they reside or work – even grocery stores or gas stations could potentially become dangerous environments without people realizing they’re disabled, she noted, adding they might also encounter people who do not have their best interests in mind when being with others who might take advantage of them.

Bay County law enforcement officials hope Purple Alerts can aid law enforcement officials in the search for more individuals with disabilities, like Josh Marshall. Josh wandered from home in 2018 and was later discovered in a retention pond; Lori Berman spent three years working to pass a bill creating Purple Alerts in Florida; this first alert was issued July 11 in Marion County for a 38-year-old who is developmentally impaired and cannot care for himself long term – this individual was later located safe. Please click here to subscribe for AMBER, Missing Child, Purple, or Silver Alerts.

What can I do to help?

Florida has added another color to their emergency alert system – Purple Alert. This alert will assist law enforcement officials in tracking down adults with mental or cognitive disabilities who have gone missing and was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on July 1, 2021.

For someone to qualify as Purple Alert, they must meet specific criteria. These include being 18 or over and having an intellectual or developmental disability; brain injury; other physical, mental, or emotional disabilities unrelated to substance abuse; or any combination thereof. Alzheimer’s or dementia-related disorder would put someone in the Silver Alert category instead.

Law enforcement will issue an alert if a missing person fulfills all criteria and meets these conditions, broadcasting his/her information over radio, television, and highway signs. So far, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has had a 98% success rate at finding missing people with disabilities.

FDLE stated that Purple Alerts are an additional tool in their law enforcement arsenal for helping families caring for loved ones with dementia find them safely again.

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