Seniors and Law Enforcement Providing Assistance to an Aging Population
Van Horn, Stan, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
People 65 years of age or older make up approximately 12.4 percent (36. million) of the U.S. population. (2) By 2030, this figure will rise to about 20 percent (71.5 million). By 2010, the number of citizens 85 years of age and over will expand to more than 30 percent to 5.8 million. Further, the senior population in several states will substantially outpace the national rate by 2025. They will live in assisted, unassisted, and conventional communities, as well as shared and supported housing. (3) Cities and counties throughout the United States should expect a larger elderly population and the creation of more retirement facilities in their jurisdictions.
Seniors are living much longer than former generations, and their number continues to grow. Although older adults face far lower risks of becoming victims than any other age group, they consider fear of crime as one of their predominant concerns. (4) Research has revealed that 20 percent of elderly people report being afraid to go out alone in their neighborhood. (5) Studies related to the phenomenon of the fear of crime show that feelings of vulnerability among seniors typically originate from their perception of safety within their own communities. (6) Such apprehension can undermine their sense of control and present a powerful disincentive to leave their homes. "Law enforcement must understand that the fear of crime often reduces the quality of life more than the actual crime itself. ... Fear of crime in extreme cases can immobilize the elderly who may shut themselves in their residences and shun all outside contacts with people." (7)
Law enforcement professionals must understand the influence these individuals will exercise in their communities, as well as how they perceive their world. Consequently, leaders will face new challenges; a considerable amount of services and resources will be required. What will agencies need to provide to these communities? What type of training will address these concerns? How will this increased need for services affect the rest of the community? Will the crime rate in a jurisdiction rise or fall as a result of additional retirement communities? What existing or future technologies can departments utilize to provide the best service to senior citizens?
As the retired population continues to increase in number and age, law enforcement leaders should listen to and seriously consider the concerns of older members of their communities. In Claremont, California, a city of approximately 35,000 residents located 35 miles east of Los Angeles, people 65 years of age and older have a significant voice. City agencies recognized the influence, importance, and value of their current and growing retirement communities. To that end, they created liaison positions to Claremont's Committee on Aging, which is comprised of residents from retirement communities (Claremont has 10 within its jurisdiction) and representatives from religious organizations, senior citizen programs, colleges, and various volunteer agencies. The committee addresses the city council on a regular basis. Personnel from the police and human services departments and city council work closely with the committee to assess needs and provide information and assistance. For example, the Claremont Police Department and the Committee on Aging have developed educational programs on personal and Internet safety, fraudulent schemes, and elder abuse prevention, regularly conducting them throughout the community. These relationships and approaches have established a close bond between seniors and law enforcement personnel, creating a greater feeling of safety among elders.
Strategic Plan and Vision
As a result of this extensive collaboration between seniors and the Claremont Police Department, the agency created a strategic plan and vision to address the increasing number of older citizens in its jurisdiction: "Through innovative, creative, and service-oriented planning, the department will find the necessary resources to carry out educational and training programs and the technology to increase the level of services to retirement communities while maintaining or increasing the level of services to the remainder of the Claremont community." The organization also established four goals.
1) Provide the best possible service to retirement communities in Claremont through the use of communication, education, technology, and crime prevention
2) Maintain an equal level of service to the nonretirement community in Claremont
3) Work closely with and provide support to allied social services agencies that provide assistance to retirement communities in Claremont
4) Identify local, county, state, and federal funding sources to continue providing the highest standard of service to all Claremont citizens, considering the increasing demands for assistance
The Claremont Police Department participates in a variety of programs to accomplish these goals and continues to search for others. For example, agency leaders partnered with the local U.S. Postal Service office to create a successful Senior Watch program. The agency trained delivery personnel to recognize indicators that an elderly individual living alone may be in distress. The department created and distributed a registration form for community seniors to complete that provides emergency response information in the event they need assistance. If delivery personnel observe any signs at the residence, such as mail piling up, lights left on, or doors or windows left open, that might mean the person requires help, they notify the police department, which, in turn, sends an officer to check on the well-being of the resident. This program effectively increases the safety of seniors without significantly impacting the department's personnel shortages or budget concerns.
The department adopted two relatively new technologies to assist in providing information to seniors regarding crimes that target them or could affect their safety and security. The Neighborhood E-Watch program, launched through Claremont's Senior Computer Club, sends alerts via e-mail when such crimes occur. Additionally, Claremont uses the Code Red Alert, similar to a reverse 911 system. It allows users (e.g., police organizations) to create a list of people within the city based on a variety of demographics. For example, the agency created a list of seniors to contact with a prerecorded message when emergency situations particularly sensitive to them occur.
The Claremont Police Department also is exploring further technologies, such as specialized equipment that monitors seniors' movements and could be used to assist in locating individuals with Alzheimer's or dementia who wander from care facilities. Additionally, security companies that supply video-monitoring systems for retirement communities could be connected to the police department, relieving the need for an officer to respond when a video observation could provide a disposition.
The Claremont Police Department has used federal grant money as an effective starting point to establish programs that, consequently, build a greater bond between seniors and the community. To secure funding sources, the agency applied for and received a federal grant based on the National and Community Services Trust Act of 1993. This grant for retired and senior service programs (RSVP) allows the usage of federal funds to engage persons 55 years of age and older in volunteer service to meet critical community needs and afford a high-quality experience for seniors. The funding enabled the department to launch its Community Patrol program. Members wear distinctive uniforms and provide such services as preventative patrol, house checks for people vacationing out of the area, and live-scan fingerprinting for community members, as well as a variety of other services that assist the police department. The program builds a stronger rapport between seniors and law enforcement personnel and enriches the lives of the volunteers.
To provide the most effective services to the growing number of senior communities, localities must ensure that representatives from social, economic, educational, and human resources work as a team. Such a concept is similar to the community-oriented policing philosophy of a combination of traditional law enforcement, prevention, problem solving, community engagement, and partnerships to address specific needs within the community. One example of this concept's effectiveness in Claremont involved vehicles speeding in and around a large senior community. Major north and south streets bordering the area consisted of two lanes in each direction with a posted speed limit of 40 miles per hour. Seniors were afraid to cross the streets, which caused a reduction of mobility throughout the community. Claremont's Committee on Aging shared their concerns with city officials. Based on traffic studies, a review of existing state and local laws, and a series of community meetings, Claremont created a senior zone, lowering the speed limit to 25 miles per hour and reducing the busy north-south streets to one lane in each direction. The resulting calmer traffic created a much safer and less threatening situation for seniors who, once again, cross the streets without fear of injury.
Finally, a Triad program that represents three sectors that partner to keep seniors safe from crime (public safety, criminal justice, and the senior community) has proven effective in many jurisdictions. (8) It has two objectives: reduce crime against seniors and decrease their unwarranted fear of crime. Once communities form a Triad, they create a SALT (Seniors and Law Enforcement Together) council, a group of representatives that implements programs and activities to achieve established objectives. SALT councils usually meet monthly, and their primary strategies focus on crime prevention and victim assistance. Triads are tailored to meet the needs of each jurisdiction. They open communication between public safety personnel and the elderly; allow seniors to voice their concerns about crime and safety; provide an avenue for active senior volunteers to help others; reduce senior isolation, a contributing factor to senior victimization; and expand law enforcement personnel capabilities within the community. (9)
Once departments form relationships with the senior community and work with other local, state, and federal resources, they should evaluate the progress of their efforts. In this regard, agencies should consider several factors.
* Do they have enough money to continue the programs? Are they meeting the goal of containing budget expenses?
* Have they formed new relationships with both public and private service providers to produce enhanced services for seniors?
* Have they developed and used new technologies to ensure the safety and security of seniors?
* Have they furnished new educational and training services to seniors?
* Are local, county, state, and federal officials supporting and encouraging the growth of programs for seniors and maintaining funding for these initiatives?
The failure of any of these steps will jeopardize the success of senior programs. Agencies always should monitor the programs and evaluate their progress and value.
Andrew Carnegie once said, "Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision--the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results." (10) Those in the law enforcement profession should maintain close contact with seniors to understand their needs and provide the best possible services. By working with local agencies and meeting with retirement community administrators and senior residents, leaders will be able to meet the challenges that accompany the increasing number of senior communities. Forming strong coalitions, looking to the future, and thinking ahead will prime agencies for the changes before they occur. Soon, both large and small departments will face an increasing number of persons over the age of 65-they must prepare for their arrival.
(1) Andy Rooney; retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/12/60minutes/rooney/main605959.shtml.
(2) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging. "A Profile of Older Americans," (Washington, DC, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005).
(3) Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, "Housing America's Seniors," (Cambridge, MA, 2000).
(4) Melanie ter Brugge. "Fear of Crime and Design: Exploring the Linkages in a Seniors' Housing Complex" (master's thesis, Simon Fraser University. 2006); retrieved from http://ir.lib.sfu.ca:8080/retrieve/3684/etd2328.pdf.
(7) M.W. Cross, "Crimes Against the Elderly: Is the Criminal Justice System Doing All We Can?"; retrieved from http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/FCJEI/SLP/SLP%20papers/Cross.pdf.
(8) For additional information, visit http://www.nationaltriad.org.
(9) The federal government currently has more than 50 active grants for agencies to provide funding and services to senior citizens. For additional information, visit http://www.federalgrantswire.com.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Seniors and Law Enforcement Providing Assistance to an Aging Population. Contributors: Van Horn, Stan - Author. Magazine title: The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Volume: 77. Issue: 11 Publication date: November 2008. Page number: 1+. © 1999 Federal Bureau of Investigation. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.