People Helping People, Tavares Police Department Creates Special Needs Database

TAVARES, Florida—Following in line with its motto, “People helping people,” Tavares Police Department has launched a new initiative to get to know its community members with special needs.

TPD announced Friday on its Facebook page, it is creating a database that will include details about individuals who may require a different response from officers and is asking for the public’s assistance to gather information and give the agency any ideas they feel will make the program better.

If you have a family member or friend with special needs, such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy or any other condition you feel the police should know about, TPD is asking you contact the agency to create a file on your loved one. Officers and dispatchers will have access to the information and individual addresses will be flagged so the officer is aware of any special circumstances before they arrive to the call.

“We are big on community policing,” TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake. “There are always ways we can be better,” she said, “and there are always opportunities for the community to teach us how to better serve them.”  

The department is aware those with special needs may be sensitive to lights and sirens, may be nonverbal or may have a history with law enforcement, and TPD having that information before they respond to a call will help ensure everyone stays safe.  A TPD officer who has an autistic child suggested creating a database recently, Sullivan said, and through collaboration with other officers and encouragement by Chief Stoney Lubins, the idea blossomed into this new program very quickly.  

The database will include names, addresses, photos, known locations the individual frequents, emergency contact information and any additional information that may be relevant. Just last month an elderly woman was found walking alone in the city and it took officers more than an hour to identify her and find where she belonged. With the creation of this database, Sullivan hopes that hour will be cut to just a few minutes in a case of a missing or found person.

“We’ll have all the information to put out to social media and all the news outlets quickly,” she said.

Arguably the most popular law enforcement Facebook page in Lake County, the public interacts with TPD and often shows its appreciation for the humor that can be found on almost every post. Sullivan enjoys the interaction with the community through social media and appreciates how helpful they are. In the case of the elderly woman in October, so many people shared the post, the woman was identified within about 30 minutes of TPD’s original post.

“People know we’re funny, but when it comes time to be serious, people want to help us. And we love that,” Sullivan said.

Community members may call TPD’s non-emergency line at 352-343-2101, extension 4 and request an officer to come by your home or business, or you may stop by TPD, 911 Gateway Drive, Tavares during regular business hours. You can also message their Facebook page, or send Sullivan an email at CSullivan@tavares.org.

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