Protecting Our Senior Citizens: The Role Of Community Police Officers

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The National Assistance Board (NAB) is taking its fight to reduce the high incidence of elder abuse to another level by hosting workshops to sensitise Community Police Officers (CPOs) about issues which affect the elderly.??

The first seminar was held last month, with another scheduled for September, Senior Citizens’ Month.

During that one-day session, 16 CPOs, drawn from districts across the island, were made more aware of elder abuse and their role in the fight against it, as well as given a timely reminder of the legal powers they had to tackle this scourge.

Director of the NAB, Clayton Springer, provided the officers with statistics and information pertaining to elder abuse.

Stating that the police represent one of the major partners "in the fight to deal with elder abuse, simply because it was a crime", Mr. Springer said it was important that the officers rid themselves of the thought that "it is a domestic or family matter and they should not get involved".

Pointing out that this abuse occurred at the family, institutional and societal levels, he disclosed that seniors 80 years and over were abused and neglected twice or three times more than other seniors. This, he indicated, was often due to their increasing vulnerability because of a variety of socio-health situations.????

The Director said that several older persons lived alone, and this increased their risk.?? He revealed that "home care statistics in the NAB reflected an increasing reality that approximately 65 per cent of the clientele reside alone".??

In addition, the CPOs heard that an increase in dementia and mental incompetence among the elderly population provided high risk realities.????

Principal Nursing Officer at the St. Philip District Hospital, Lolene Rawlins, who acknowledged that there were no documented statistics in Barbados on the prevalence of elder abuse in communities, said it was strongly believed that such cases were high and significantly under-reported.

Mrs. Rawlins told the officers that elder abuse may be defined as any action or inaction by staff or others that jeopardises the health or well-being of an older adult.?? "This includes physical, emotional, financial, sexual or medication abuse, as well as passive or active neglect and denial of civil or human rights," she stated.

The CPOs were also made aware that there were several indicators to look for in identifying potential abuse, and were given the profiles of older adults and high-risk perpetrators.?? "Since lack of awareness of the types and manifestations of elder abuse is one of the leading reasons why cases go unnoticed and unaddressed, it is important to have knowledge of the types of abuse, profiles of abused older adults and their abusers, as well as potential indicators of abuse," the Principal Nursing Officer advised.

She added: "All types of abuse do not look the same, nor do all people fit the same profile."

In spelling out the role of Community Police Officers in cases where elder abuse exists, Mrs. Rawlins said it involved building a relationship of trust with the resident, speaking with the suspected perpetrator, talking with family members and friends, evaluating if abuse is present, and contacting the appropriate service agencies to seek assistance for the individual.

Attorney-at-Law, Alicia Archer, spoke of the need for legislation to deal with elder abuse, since the Barbadian population was rapidly aging.?? She called for a framework that could sustain efforts "to prevent, detect, treat, intervene in elder abuse and exploitation and prosecute offenders".

She declared: "All this is in keeping with the responsibility of the state to protect the vulnerable.?? Just as we have laws for the protection of minors and mentally incapacitated persons, it is necessary to implement and vigorously execute laws in relation to the protection of the elderly, who, because of mental, verbal and physical limitations, may be left vulnerable to abuse."

The Attorney-at-Law further stressed that legislation was necessary for providing guidance in promoting, coordinating and planning among all levels of government, health, legal and social service agencies.

Noting that there was a dearth of elder protection legislation in commonwealth countries, she advised that the most aggressive forms enacted to tackle elder abuse were from various states in America, and these could be used as a reference point to develop ours in Barbados.

"We do not simply want to have legislation.?? We want it to be clear and concise and have teeth with which to address this problem; and there are various types of provisions which can be employed to achieve that goal," she underscored.??

Ms. Archer told the CPOs that the "single biggest problem" with legislation was in its enforcement.?? "Penalties need to be strict to deter the bad behaviour which the legislation contemplates," she asserted.

In the state of California, breaches of the reporting requirements could result in fines of up to $100,000 or imprisonment for fairly substantial periods, and the closure of a facility for a period of time, or disqualification of an already certified individual or institution.??

Pinpointing provisions in some local statutes that the officers could use to deal with elder abuse, Ms. Archer listed the Offences Against the Person Act for various assaults; the Sexual Offences Act, in the case of rape and indecent assault; and the Theft Act, for obtaining by deception, to outright theft.?? She added that the Domestic Violence legislation could and should be used to institute and prosecute such matters where the abuse is perpetrated at the hands of a household member.

"Most acts of abuse can be pigeonholed under currently existing legislation or common law offences," she advised, after all allegations are thoroughly and properly investigated by the police.

The next workshop for Community Police Officers, scheduled for Senior Citizens’ Month, will be conducted under the theme "Honouring the Past, Embracing the Future – Towards a Society for All Ages". The NAB and other stakeholders are hoping that, with these sessions, the elderly could live their remaining years with the knowledge that more police officers are involved in the crusade to stamp out elder abuse and are there to protect them.

emcclean@barbados.gov.bb

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