TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shows that 2021 is on track to be a record-breaking year for the number of Silver Alerts across the state, as the number of alerts so far are already more than half of the total from 2020.

Silver Alert program results over time

Since its start in October 2008, there have been 2,621 alerts issued across the state through Florida’s Silver Alert program, as of the data available through May 2021.

Total162175162203232245283257274250129 as of May
(Source: Florida Department of Law Enforcement)

Over time, the number of Silver Alerts per year has generally increased, despite a few small drops in some years.

The data currently available from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement goes back to 2011 for month-by-month numbers. It shows a steady increase in the number of alerts over the past 10 years, with noted spikes from 2013 to 2014, from 2016 to 2017, and again in 2020.

The months with the most alerts are usually January, May and December, according to the data.

As of May, the state has already issued 129 Silver Alerts in 2021, more than half of the total for last year, just five months in.

While the exact increase per year isn’t entirely consistent, the overall trend shows that as Florida’s elderly population increases and more Americans move to Florida for retirement, the state’s law enforcement agencies are responding to the needs of their communities and issuing more Silver Alerts each year.

Florida’s elderly population

The increase in Florida’s elderly population, and the subsequent increase in the number of residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, has increased alongside the growing number of Silver Alerts.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20.9% of Florida’s population was 65 or older, as of 2019. More finalized, current data from the 2020 Census is not yet available on the data site from the Bureau, but estimates from the 2019 survey shows that nearly 4.5 million Floridians were 65 or older.

Additionally, 580,000 Floridians have Alzheimer’s disease according to data from the Alzheimer’s Association, adding to the need for the Silver Alert Program.

How Silver Alerts work

While each law enforcement agency has their own criteria for a local Silver Alert, FDLE guidelines do set some basics for what qualifies for a Silver Alert in Florida.

The guidelines set a baseline for activation. Those requirements are:

  • The person is 60 years or older, OR:
  • The person is 18-59 and law enforcement has determined the missing person lacks the capacity to consent and that a local Silver Alert may be the only way to rescue them
  • The person has an irreversible deterioration of intellectual faculties, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, that has been verified by law enforcement

Local Silver Alerts

For a local Silver Alert, the FDLE requires that local authorities like your county sheriff or a city’s police department does a preliminary investigation and concludes that the disappearance is a credible threat to the person’s welfare and safety.

After they’ve determined the threat is credible, the local agency enters the missing person’s information into the Florida Crime Information Center and issues a local “be on the lookout” notice, or a BOLO. They also contact local media outlets, like 8 On Your Side, to put a notice out that the senior or disabled individual is missing.

Local memory disorder clinics should be contacted, or the family of the missing person should be given information to help with their services and assistance, once the individual is found, according to FDLE.

State Silver Alerts

If the person with dementia goes missing in a vehicle, a statewide Silver Alert can be issued instead. The FDLE has a Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse that can be used to put message signs in the area, helping put notices out to find the missing person.

That’s when you’ll see the LED or illumination signs on highways and roadways show the alert information for drivers.

The state Silver Alert criteria is similar to the requirements for a local Silver Alert, but do include that the missing person is traveling by motor vehicle with a license plate number that’s been verified by law enforcement.

Signs are allowed to stay up for a Silver Alert for up to six hours, by state law.

Brief history of the Silver Alert program

According to the FDLE, the Florida Silver Alert Program was started by an Executive Order from then-Gov. Charlie Crist on Oct. 8, 2008. Crist’s order followed a local Silver Alert system launched in Pinellas County with the support of Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-FL12.

Congressman Bilirakis got involved with creating the program after an 86-year-old woman with dementia named Mary Zelter went missing in February 2008 and was found a week later, dead from drowning.

A week after the Pinellas version was launched, Crist signed the executive order. The system was codified into a state statute by the Florida Legislature in 2011, solidifying and creating the system for all of Florida’s counties.

Rep. Bilirakis has remained supportive of a national version of the Silver Alert system, and pushed legislation to create one similar to the Amber Alert, since at least 2009.

The first Silver Alert program in the country was launched in Colorado in 2006. Currently, Florida is one of 27 states that have a Silver Alert system, and nine states have similar programs that are not called Silver Alerts.

>> Follow Sam Sachs on Facebook
>> Follow Sam Sachs on Twitter