The first lesson: Don’t count on technology to save the day.
The man’s wife called the police after he had been missing for three hours and wouldn’t answer his cellphone. The Fairfax County Police launched an all-out search involving more than 60 officers, members of the fire department, the police helicopter, the police bloodhound, the police bike team and a fire department boat in Lake Anne. A large command post was established at Lake Anne Elementary School. Cruisers with license-plate readers were deployed. Everywhere you turned in Reston, there was an officer on foot, parked at an intersection or driving through cul de sacs and parking lots.
The family was surprised that the police swung into action so quickly and extensively, but this was a pretty standard response to signs that a person is in imminent danger. “In 2012, we responded to 107 ‘critical missing person’ or ‘critical missing adult’ calls,” Fairfax police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings told me, and this year the total is 165 such calls.
Searching the incident reports for mentions of Alzheimer’s, Jennings said, revealed that there were 23 cases in 2012 and 17 this year. And many reports may not show a dementia-related cause without a formal diagnosis or if the family did not disclose the condition. Most of those cases required some or all of the search resources summoned in the Reston case, Jennings said.
The first patrol officer who responded to the Reston call stayed at the family’s home for 10 hours. He contacted the missing man’s bank, as did the man’s wife, to see if or where his debit card was being used. They got nothing.
Detectives involved in the search said that was unsurprising. The man did not have an online account set up that his wife could check. But even if he did, the bank told her the following Monday, the addresses of where he used the card would not be available.
Debit and credit cards “are not designed to track people’s whereabouts,” said Nessa Feddis, senior vice president for consumer protection and payments at the American Bankers Association. “They’re
designed to facilitate financial transactions.”
Transactions on weekends are even trickier because banks and many other businesses use that time to upgrade or reset their computer networks, making customers’ new information inaccessible. And some smaller banks, such as the one the missing man uses, outsource their weekend work to third-party companies that can’t access that information, Feddis said.