U.S. Mayor Article

Seniors on Safety

Evanston Mayor Lorraine H. Morton
April 15, 2002


Preventing Crime Against the Elderly

An Evanston (IL) program, Seniors on Safety (S.O.S.), operates under the direction of a Spring 1998 graduate of the Citizens Police Academy. As an alumna and while volunteering with the police department's crime prevention bureau, she attained certification as a specialist in the prevention of crime against seniors. A year later, Crime Against the Elderly funding became available from a private source and she became the Police department's paid (20 hours/week) specialist.

With the assistance of two volunteers (also graduates of the Citizens Police Academy), the specialist phones all victims/complainants aged 60 and over who are named in incident reports but who are neither involved in an ongoing investigation nor being assisted by the department's victim outreach bureau. During these follow'ups, the specialists and her assistants offer free home security surveys and obtain information that might be relevant in an emergency, i.e. changes in medication, recent surgeries, where a disabled senior's room is located in the residence, etc. This information is recorded in the department's 9-1-1 system.

The specialist delivers large'print crime prevention literature for seniors to locations that cater to their activities, such as senior centers, the YWCA, retirement communities, and others. The literature is in a simple format. She also presents programs about crimes that typically target the elderly, e.g., scams, cons, home repair fraud, and encourages listeners to allow her to check into the legitimacy of organizations or businesses before the seniors do business with them. Finally, she explains utilization of Illinois' strengthened Elder Abuse Law, which mandates the reporting of abuse.

Late in 1998, the Evanston Police Department, along with other direct service elements of the city's government, recognized that Evanston seniors require special strategies and programs relating to their physical and emotional needs. The city has an estimated senior population of 10,394 adults, nearly one'third in the low and moderate income category. Furthermore, the elderly are often vulnerable because they lack knowledge about Internet safety, the prevention of identity theft, investment scams, and other programs. In addition, they recover slowly from victimization. S.O.S. was launched in the spring of 1999 to teach these seniors how to protect themselves, serve as an information resource, be their liaison within the police department, and refer them to appropriate outside agencies.

Indicators of S.O.S. Success

Like domestic violence, elder abuse tends to be under reported. However, the specialist receives increasing reports of such abuse. The department believes this is due, in part, to the program's having fostered a better understanding within the community of what constitutes elder abuse under the Illinois criminal code and also acceptance of the specialist and trust in S.O.S. as a comfortable place to report incidents of such abuse.

Referrals to S.O.S. are steadily increasing. Similarly, referrals by the specialist to other areas of the department, community programs and other agencies are increasing. Other indications that the program is effective include heightened media coverage, numerous requests for information about the program from other police departments considering such a program, and requests for the specialist to conduct training for police officers and others who work with seniors.

How the Program is Financed

Thus far, the program has been privately financed by grants from the Joseph Levy Foundation. The initial grant (one year in duration) was $10,000 for salary, $3,000 for printing costs, $2,000 for discretionary funds (training and miscellaneous expenses), and $2,000 for mileage. The specialist used her personal vehicle. At the end of the first year, the foundation extended the S.O.S. grant for two years and provided the specialist with a vehicle.

Nearly $5,000 in donations have also been received from individuals. Additional funding is being sought from the Community Development Block Grant program in order to expand the program.

Incorporating Other City Agencies

The specialist has worked to expand the program's outreach to other city agencies. Initially, the specialist introduced herself and her program to directors/administrators of the city's senior citizen organizations and related groups, explaining senior crime prevention and scheduling programs for seniors. On the basis of these contacts she created a resources database.

Within the police department, the specialist receives and acts upon referrals from patrol officers. She also interfaces with the police department's Victim Outreach Bureau and its Bureau of Investigations.

Externally, the specialist interacts with Evanston/Skokie Valley Family Services, two county housing facilities for seniors, the Evanston Senior Service Providers, the Levy Senior Center Advisory Board, the Evanston Commission on Aging, the Meals on Wheels program, and Evanston's largest residential retirement community, the Presbyterian Homes.

Lessons for Other Mayors

Participation is relevant for the elderly. As age increasingly erodes their physical skills, many silently shut themselves up in their homes. Isolated, they become less able to advocate for themselves and, simultaneously, increasingly distanced from the support of the social network. The cumulative result is an ever'increasing variety of problems - some mental, others physical. Ultimately, these seniors are at'risk for emergency safety services - often years earlier than is necessary.

Seniors who know they can do much to avoid being victimized - who know what, specifically, to do to avoid victimization and who know how to get assistance if their best efforts fail to get the whole job done - have the power to maintain quality lives. Isolation, on the other hand, steals their quality of life as surely as any thief might steal their valuables.

Staying involved keeps a person "savvy," no matter what his age. A savvy senior is now naive. He/she is self'protective. He/she trusts him/herself, and so refuses to be rushed into anything. He/she also checks things out with his support network - friends, lawyers, the police department, the Better Business Bureau and the local consumer affairs department.

Specific Advice for Mayors Interested in Replicating the Program

Mayors interested in replicating S.O.S. must be aware that the elderly tend to be silent, and that their silence isolates them just as certainly as, so often, they choose to physically isolate themselves. Human beings respond to stimulus. Isolated, the elderly are not stimulated. As a result, they become passive - reluctant and/or unable to advocate for themselves, vulnerable to having their needs overlooked. But a need overlooked is not, thereby, eradicated. Indeed, unattended, it grows.

For more information on the S.O.S. program, please contact Frank Kaminski, Chief of Police, Evanston Police Department, 1454 Elmwood Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201, Telephone—847-866-5005, Fax—847-866-9686, fkaminski@CityofEvanston.org

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