FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Floridians may notice a new color of alert flashing across highway message boards soon.

After several years of development between disability advocates, law enforcement and transportation officials, the Purple Alert will be rolling out July 1.

The alert will be “used to assist in the location of missing adults suffering from mental, cognitive, intellectual or developmental disabilities,” according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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The Purple Alert will join Florida’s Silver (senior), Blue (law enforcement) and Amber (children) Alerts. Purple Alerts will apply to people who are 18 or older and do not qualify for a Silver Alert. The missing person must have an intellectual or developmental disability, brain injury or another physical, mental or emotional disability that is not related to substance abuse, Alzheimer’s disease or a dementia-related disorder.

The local law enforcement agency also must conclude the person is in danger of bodily harm, and they can be returned to safety only through law enforcement intervention.

State Rep. Joe Casello, D-Boynton Beach, co-sponsored the House bill. He said that he and state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, brought up the measure after Joshua Marshall, a 31-year-old nonverbal man, disappeared and drowned in Port St. Lucie in 2018.

“We realized there was a category of people who fall in the cracks between Amber and Silver Alerts, so hopefully this can save lives,” Casello said.

Casello said the plan had support from the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council and the Florida State Guardianship Association, among other clinical professionals.

Senior public policy analyst Olivia Babis from Disability Rights Florida said she worked closely on this legislation with Berman. She said the new law strikes a balance between safety and privacy.

“It’s a tightrope issue for the disability community,” Babis said. “It’s walking that line between making sure people with disabilities have adequate protection, but also making sure that we’re not being overly paternalistic with the disability community.”

Babis said there were initial concerns about bringing adults with disabilities into contact with law enforcement, which could be a confusing and potentially dangerous experience. Advocates have said that crisis intervention training is key during interactions between law enforcement and people with disabilities or people experiencing mental health crises.

“We don’t want to bring people with disabilities in closer proximity to law enforcement unnecessarily,” Babis said. “But there are times when that is the only way someone is going to be returning safely, with law enforcement activating one of these alerts. And I think we’re not overly concerned about this being abused the way that the bill was structured when it passed.”

Troy Gras, a legislative aide with Casello’s office, said that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began training for the Purple Alert activation on June 15.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office said they are in the process of developing training for deputies for the Purple Alert program, and they plan to launch the training next week.

A spokesperson for the Broward Sheriff’s Office said in an email that the “BSO has been providing crisis intervention training to deputies for many years and continues to prioritize crisis intervention training to assist deputies in identifying the signs and symptoms of mental illness, reinforcing de-escalation techniques when interacting with people experiencing a mental health crisis and connecting these individuals and their families with necessary resources.”

A Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said, “We are in the process of educating ourselves about the Purple Alert.”

Florida residents can sign up to receive Purple Alert notifications here.

© 2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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