Ed Mitchell said his wife often has asked him to walk in front of her so she can have an idea of where she needs to go.

Eleven years ago at age 51, Frankie Mitchell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Although she still volunteers in the Monkey Village at the Phoenix Zoo, she sometimes wanders off while waiting for her husband to pick her up.

Mitchell worries that she'll get lost and he won't be able to find her.

"She lives in a land without memory," the Tempe man said. "Sometimes, she can hardly find a room in our house. It just takes minutes before she looks for where she's going."

Such a concern is common for families in states such as Arizona that are heavily populated by retirees. So on Friday, the Tempe Police Department launched the state's first Silent Partner program with other organizations to help locate missing adults or children with conditions such as autism in a matter of minutes through a cellular-based program.

The program was made possible by a $12,000 grant from the Tempe Community Foundation that will allow for about 40 lightweight bracelets, the EmSeeQ device, about the size of a wristwatch with capabilities similar to a GPS tracking device. The bracelet can only be removed with a key.

Other organizations participating in the program are CARE 7 of Tempe, East Valley Adult Resources and EMFinders, the service provider that helps pinpoint a location for missing or wandering adults.

EmFinders works directly with 911 dispatchers to quickly reduce the search time for a missing adult. If the person is discovered missing, the caregiver calls 911 or EmFinders to relay an encrypted message to the EmSeeQ device which has its own phone number. The device places a call to 911 to notify the police and then contacts EmFinders to activate the device and provide a location within meters to dispatchers who can then direct responders to the location.

EmSeeQ also can work inside buildings and in other areas where satellite signals required for GPS may be obstructed.

The message sent to the device also has updated location capabilities if the missing person is on the move.

"The impact is immediate," said Dan Taylor, executive director of East Valley Adult Resource Center. "It gives peace of mind."

From Sept. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011, there were 13 adults reported missing in Tempe, all of which were safely found, according to assistant police chief Angel Carbajal.

However, in Mesa, 85-year-old Hugh Turner, who suffers from dementia, went missing from his east Mesa home in the 600 block of East Sugarloaf Street last Dec. 24 - and still has not been found. The neighborhood is off of Power Road, and early on, there were reported sightings of Turner, including one inside a nearby Circle K convenience store and another on a Valley Metro bus. But both were unsubstantiated because the video surveillance in the Circle K was not working at the time, and Valley Metro erased the video on its buses after three days.

Mesa police said they have not received tips of any sightings involving Turner in recent months.

"We haven't any clues at all," Turner's wife of 61 years, Joyce Turner, said. "We're at a loss as to what happened to my husband. It seems like the search has been abandoned. The fact that Hugh had a cell phone, he would've known to call for help. We just don't understand how someone could walk to the end of the street and disappear. Someone must have seen him or picked him up. We just don't know."

Turner's daughter, who came from Canada to Mesa soon after her father disappeared, fears he could have had a stroke and become disoriented.

Joyce Turner said she thinks the EmFinder device and Tempe's Silent Partner program is a good idea, but has her reservations about its reliability.

"What good would it do if someone just suddenly collapses, and they're just laying there? It's only good if it works," she said.

The bracelets are battery-operated and can last for about five days from a charge, according to Jim Nally, president of California-based EmFinders, who was present at Tempe's launch of the program. But Nally recommended that the bracelet be charged every three days.

Carbajal said during Friday's announcement of the program that in one case of a missing adult, there were 20 patrol units participating in a search, and by participating in the program, it is expected to alleviate resources.

"We treat missing adult cases as a high priority," Carbajal said. "There are few calls that are as gut wrenching from the frantic wife of someone who is missing. The elderly are the most vulnerable adults in the community."

The Silent Partner program will not replace police responding to reports of missing adults, but will be another tool in the department's tool box to help locate missing or wandering adults faster.

The bracelets cost $199 with a $25 per month service fee through EmFinders. For those who qualify to receive them through the program, the activation fee is free.

Nally said for those with loved ones who may wander, "The big thing is that this will save their life. When they wander away, they often can't ask for help."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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