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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Blairstown Police Department Introduces STARS Program

Corporal Richard Herzer and Chief Scott Johnsen of the Blairstown Police Department explained the force’s new missing person database, created to ensure the safety of those with special needs, at a Blairstown Township Committee meeting on Sept. 14. 

The new database named Blairstown STARS will profile every person with cognitive disorders in the township and provide information that would allow for a speedy recovery. Profiles will include an annually updated photo taken by Blairstown police officers— creating an opportunity for special needs residents to meet and interact with officers. 

Addresses and emergency contacts will be made available along with a detailed outline of that person’s disability. Understanding of the person’s individual needs may help officers communicate with them and show they are there to help. 

Areas of interest will be logged into the system alongside an aerial map of the person’s home with identifiers of places or people they might visit. In a Facebook post, Blairstown PD explained the process saying, “When the officer pulls up the profile, they will have a picture so they can be checking the area as they are responding to the address and have all vital information in case they encounter the person before meeting with the caller, knowing the person’s name, and their needs.”

With privacy in mind, only Blairstown Police Officers can access this information unless outside resources are needed. If outside resources such as Blairstown Search and Rescue, Ambulance Corp, K-9 Unit, or Fire Department are required, the profile can be shared. “They have all the information already, even if they’re coming late to the call,” stated Herzer. 

With caregiver consent, an up-to-date photo of the missing person can be posted to the Blairstown Police Department Facebook page alerting other residents and guaranteeing more eyes on the lookout. 

The idea for this kind of database came to Corporal Herzer after a mother asked him if Blairstown Police had any program that could help locate people with autism, like her son, if they were to go missing. “I told her no and the look on her face was just distraught… it almost kept me up at night,” recounted Herzer. 

Back at the station Herzer got to work and devised Blairstown STARS. Inspired by astronomy, Herzer explained that stars are like the Blairstown residents with special needs: “A star is something very special and no two are alike. A star is so beautiful that it must be cared for with extra love and care.” 

“The Blairstown Police Department will always go above and beyond for the residents we serve. With this program, we want to give back to our stars.”

To enroll a family member in the Blairstown STARS program contact Corporal Herzer or call (908) 362-7667. 

At the BTC meeting, Committee member, Joanne VanValkneburg asked, “You sort of went through this a year and a half ago? When you were looking for someone?” 

VanValkenburg was referring to Mary Margaret Murphy, a 54-year-old Blairstown resident who went missing from the Easterseals group home located on Beechwood Rd. in December of 2019. After ten days of searching, she was found dead in a heavily wooded area. 

Chief Johnsen responded, “That had a tragic ending. But, believe it or not, we have three group homes in town and there’s a lot more special needs than I think most people realize. It’s not uncommon.”

Alex Tironi Headshot
Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.