MOUNT VERNON — Older Americans comprise the most rapidly growing segment of the population. By 2030, there will be about 70 million Americans over the age of 65. This increased life expectancy is leading to new problems and issues for the criminal justice system.
“In Knox County, 59,000 is our current population estimate,” said John Thatcher, Knox County Prosecutor. “We also have 14 percent of our population over the age of 65. Since I became prosecutor, we have averaged between 3 percent and 5 percent of our cases involving victims who are 65 or older.”
Those cases range from domestic violence and felonious assault to theft by deception and robbery.
“The frequency and sometimes severity of the cases we prosecute stand out in my mind because of the age of the victim,” Thatcher continued. “It takes longer for them to recover, whether it be financially or physically or emotionally.”
Thatcher said elder abuse is analogous to how domestic violence was handled in the 1970s, or sex crimes against children in the 1980s.
“It happens, we know it’s underreported, and we have to deal with it,” he said.
In an effort to combat elder abuse and other crimes against seniors, community members and law enforcement personnel met Tuesday to learn about a program called Triad, a partnership between law enforcement, seniors and community organizations that work with seniors. Participants included representatives of faith-based groups, law enforcement, Adult Protective Services and emergency personnel, among others.
Dealing with crimes against seniors has two sides: Prevention and prosecution. Triad works on the prevention side. Because the goal is to reduce crime against seniors, participation by law enforcement is key.
“It’s a two-way street,” Dale Gillette, triad coordinator for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and former Ross County sheriff, told the group. “Law enforcement helps seniors, but it’s also seniors helping law enforcement.
“The community is what makes Triad work,” he added. “The engine that makes a triad run is the SALT Council.”
The SALT Council — Seniors and Law (enforcement) Together — is an action group of eight to 10 people, led by law enforcement, that takes an active role in surveying seniors to determine their crime-related needs. It recommends and develops programs based on those needs. In locales where there is a high level of crime against seniors, programs may focus on crime prevention or victimization. In other locales, programs may focus on reassurance programs, training for law enforcement or involving volunteers with law enforcement agencies.
Gillette, who retired after more than 40 years in law enforcement, was instrumental in getting Triad started in Ross County. Programs developed for that area include R U OK, a computerized system that activates a phone call every day to seniors in 15-minute increments. After a certain amount of time, if there is no response by the senior, law enforcement responds to the home.
Another program is Project Lifesaver, wherein seniors wear a bracelet that has a transmitter. If the senior wanders away, the transmitter can track his or her location.
“You need to do an assessment of area seniors to see what they need or want,” said Gillette. “It’s tailored to the needs of individual counties.”
Knox County already has an Older Adult Task Force, which is comprised of about 50 organizations that work with seniors. Its focus, said president Patricia Law of Home Instead Senior Care, is to find out what services are available for seniors, and to make that information known to seniors.
“It gives us an opportunity to find out what their needs are and to do our job better,” she said.
Law sees the task force and Triad being able to mesh.
“I think they would complement each other,” she said. “It’s kind of scary that police and law enforcement don’t know about [the task force.]
“I think the challenges of Triad is one, how to get seniors there, and two, can we keep the momentum going?”
Lee Mitchell of Country Court Nursing Center and past president of the task force, said, “I think [Triad] is what we’ve been looking for for the past five years.”
“I think the task force is [Triad’s] jumping off point,” said Jana Shira, administrator for Knox County Job & Family Services. “I think the [task force] group has already established the need for education in the community; I like the idea of adding seniors and law enforcement and EMS.”
The task force will discuss Triad at its next meeting July 21.
Thatcher was optimistic after Tuesday’s meeting.
“I think the number who attended the meeting, and the fact that we already have a task force, is a good sign,” he said. “I think there is a need out there.”