Law enforcement officers are often the first to respond to and investigate suspected cases of elder abuse, but nine out of 10 officers receive no training on how to handle these cases, according to a study by the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT) at Sam Houston State University.
In a survey of Texas law enforcement leaders and training instructors, more than half of the 272 officers who participated said they have faced situations involving the elderly in the field and could have benefitted from training on the topic. The majority of those surveyed said they would like mandated training on elder abuse to be offered at police academies, and others polled would like to have a one-time training available for all sworn officers.
“Estimates are that 10% of our elder population are victims of some form of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation,” said Dr. Victoria Titterington, co-author of the study and a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Sam Houston State University. “Yet experts have reported that knowledge about elder abuse lags as much as two decades behind the fields of child abuse and domestic violence. It is imperative that law enforcement learns to recognize elder abuse indicators, communicate with elders and investigate suspected elder abuse in a way that ensures that victims are protected and offenders are held accountable.”
- Gaining knowledge about aging
- Understanding dementia
- Reporting requirements for elder abuse
- Working with Adult Protective Services
- Interviewing the elderly
- Investigating elder abuse
- Preventing elder abuse
- Addressing elderly drivers
In addition to TCOLE, a number of Texas cities and counties have developed their own curriculum, including Aging 101 or specific law enforcement training on the issues. Other states also have developed curriculum on elder abuse, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada and Oklahoma. Other resources for training include the Alzheimer’s Association, LEMIT, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the National Dementia and Alzheimer’s Resource Center, Adult Protective Services (APS), the American Bar Association, the U.S. Department of Justice, and UT Health Science Center.
In 2008, APS at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services confirmed more than 48,000 cases of abuse, excluding those within long-term health facilities. In 2010, the U.S. Census reported 3.7 million people in Texas over 60 years of age, and by 2020, the population over 85 years old is expected to increase by 50 percent.
In the Elder Justice Roadmap Project (2014), funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal government emphasized the need for the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, prosecutors, and APS, to combat this critical issue. Two states, Florida and California, adopted state mandated training on elder abuse for sworn officers, while the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement offers two voluntary courses on the topic. The study, “Elder Abuse Training Needs Assessment for Law Enforcement in Texas,” by Dr. Victoria Titterington and Master’s Student Susan Hoppe, is available from the LEMIT.
“LEMIT is committed to addressing and providing education on elderly abuse,” said Dr. Rita Watkins, Executive Director of LEMIT. “This study supports expanding elderly abuse training for law enforcement officers. It's too important not too."