Seniors and Law Enforcement Providing Assistance to an Aging Population

Article excerpt

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.

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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?

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CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA

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. …