23 September 2022

Police giving out next of kin cards to speed up emergency contact search

| James Coleman
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Next of kin card

Pick up your next of kin card from your local ACT police station. Photo: James Coleman.

The police have launched a new way of making sure they know exactly who to call in an emergency.

The initiative takes the form of pocket-sized cards, dubbed next of kin cards, with blanks on the back for your name and date of birth and the name and phone number of your emergency contact.

After all, when phones are locked and wallets are missing, you can’t beat old-fashioned pieces of cardboard.

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Sergeant Ben Willis from the Community Engagement Team said there had been an increase in situations where officers had been unable to identify someone quickly, particularly in incidents involving elderly and vulnerable members of the community.

“Quite often, police and our other first responder partners are called to incidents where the people we are assisting are unable to communicate with us, therefore making it difficult to know who we should contact,” he said.

“It’s also handy if someone needs medical assistance but cannot verbalise what their medical condition is.”

Sergeant Ben Willis

Sergeant Ben Willis holding next of kin cards, showing the back and front. Photo: James Coleman.

ACT Policing recognises a next of kin as a person’s spouse, domestic partner or closest living blood relative who is over 18 years of age.

Sergeant Willis said ACT Policing needed a new and innovative way to assist officers in finding these individuals faster in the event of a missing person or casualty.

He recalled a recent instance when a card would have saved time and confusion.

“One of my car crews was out on patrol and came across an elderly lady who was nonverbal, suffering from a medical condition, possibly dementia,” he said.

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“She wasn’t able to verbalise who she was or where she had come from. The next of kin card would have been ideal, because we would have known who to contact to return her home or to her care facility.”

As it was, the officers spent more than an hour sifting through missing persons reports and phoning nearby hospitals and aged-care facilities.

“It’s quite a lengthy process and it can be quite distressing for a person who has a medical condition and doesn’t know what’s going on.”

The cards are inspired by the Next of Kin Program over the border. Residents of NSW can have the contact details of their nominated person recorded at a local police station. In the event of an emergency, police can then access this information from their secure database.

Fill in the blanks

Fill in the blanks. Photo: James Coleman.

“We thought it was a great idea, and one we could build on,” Sergeant Willis said.

About 4000 cards have been printed as part of phase one of the rollout, primarily designed for use by the elderly and people with a disability. Based on the initial reaction from the community, more will be coming.

“These will be a great asset to the police and ambulance service … they’re small enough to fit into the back of a phone, a vehicle console or wallet,” Sergeant Willis said.

Police officers are now encouraged to check people for next of kin cards if they are unable to communicate with the officers.

Canberrans can collect next of kin cards for free from any ACT police station. Alternatively, phone ACT Policing on 131 444 for postal arrangements.

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