Police officers are frequently the first point of contact in a number of instances involving older adults ranging from medical emergencies to behavioral altercations. In order to help police better respond in such situations, there a growing trend of training programs aimed at providing law enforcement with knowledge about conditions faced by older adults.
These programs aim to educate police officers about the physiological, functional, and cognitive changes associated with aging. When officers understand the common causes of the wide range of incidents involving older adults, they are then better able to respond in an understanding, appropriate, and compassionate manner.
In one such program, the Division of Geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco provided content about older populations to the San Francisco Police Department’s existing Crisis Intervention Training. Prior to this training, 45 percent of the officers reported lacking knowledge related to aging-related health issues and not knowing how to assess the medical and social service needs of older adults they encounter. To remedy this, they receive practical tips for dealing with cognitive and functional impairment, and for spotting signs of elder abuse.
Course evaluations have shown that the San Francisco training has had a positive impact on these officers’ work with older adults, in addition to building empathy for this population. Officers reported slowing down and focusing on good communication techniques with the older adults that they encounter. In addition, officers are also learning about communicating with community-based health care partners.
In initiatives such as this, the goal is that encounters with older adults can have the most positive possible outcomes for all involved.
Byerly LK, Brown RT, Williams BA, et al. Training police officers in elder awareness builds empathy, improves interactions. Aging Today. http://www.asaging.org/blog/training-police-officers-elder-awareness-builds-empathy-improves-interactions. October 31, 2017. Accessed January 5, 2018.