Using a Mobile Database to Better Serve People with Special Needs

The Addison (IL) Police Department is now using smart phones to give officers information on subjects on the autistic spectrum, subjects with dementia, and others who have special needs.

Doug Wyllie Crop Headshot


The old saying that "information is power" is woefully inadequate. Information is just information, but the careful and deliberate use of that information in action is really powerful stuff.

The appropriate use of information is truly powerful. The failure to use the information you have can be tragic.

Real-Time Intel

In a law enforcement context, having access to information during a call for service is vital. Having the "who, what, where, when (the why is usually unknown until long after the incident)" is pretty crucial.

Sergeant Stephan Bjes of the Addison (IL) Police Department has led a very creative field intelligence initiative at his agency. It gives officers critical information during encounters with individuals who have special needs, including people on the autism disorder spectrum, people with dementia, and people with mental illness.

Addison PD is using PowerDMS policy and training management software to disseminate the special needs information to its officers.

"We already had PowerDMS implemented in our department to streamline our policies and the monthly tests that our officers have to establish to meet our training mandates. So we preregistered our 'special needs' citizens into this [database] so that we'd have this information available to us," Sergeant Bjes says.

Bjes—who is father to two young men with special needs—might have been precisely the right person to take the capabilities of Power DMS to an entirely different level. He imagined the possibility that the technology could enable officers on his department to have the ability to roll up onto a scene with just a little more intel.

Bjes began a program through which officers on patrol would have instant access on their mobile phones to information about special needs subjects. Families in the region were encouraged to enter into the database things like their loved one's individual's triggers, what their sensory needs and/or challenges, might be, and other information that officers need to know before they make contact.

"We realized that PowerDMS had this capability in their system…. So on a call for service—through their phone—officers can access the PowerDMS app and go into a file that we had set up for that registrant," Bjes says.

Case Study

Bjes believes the nexus of a well-updated database and real-time access to that data with meaningful context can help resolve potentially problematic encounters. He provides this example.

"A specific call that we had—we had a young man who is, well he was 13 at the time—he's older now, but 13 the first time we had him. I just registered him in our database. He was in the severe side of autism—nonverbal. And the first time we had him, we had him in one of our local grocery stores. And when the officers arrived, he could not communicate. He was pretty agitated. And they couldn't even figure out who he was.

"The officers on scene accessed the PowerDMS app right away, and lo and behold we had him registered. They were able to identify him to get him calmed down and contact his mom—within about 10 minutes," Bjes says.

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Doug Wyllie Crop Headshot
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