By Sgt. Bernadette Smith, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
April 15, 2021
The role of law enforcement is not just about kicking down doors and arresting criminals. It is also about protecting one of our most vulnerable populations. Seniors have greatly contributed to society, worked full careers, raised families, assisted with grandchildren, helped their aging parents; and are now slowing down. They deserve our attention, respect and the protection of our law enforcement. This was the impetus for the Douglas County Sherriff’s office designing the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) Good Neighbor Program. The program began with one volunteer and one client in January 2017, today, there are 45 volunteers and we have processed about 183 clients. A background checked volunteer is assigned to a senior to call and/or visit. Friendship is the basic ingredient that DCSO offers through its volunteers.
Imagine if you will some of the recent scenarios that we have encountered and helped our older Americans in our community navigate:
By design, this community outreach program connects the sheriff’s office with the older Americans in our community. A comprehensive home visit is conducted by a peace officer, and emergency information is procured, a safety check of the residence is completed along with admonitions about current scams.
The volunteers are trained in the signs and symptoms of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. They are educated in suicide prevention, and the services provided by social services. They are trained how to interact with seniors who may be showing signs of dementia. They form a bond with their senior and mostly everything goes well, offering friendship. Sometimes as time progresses the volunteers recognize something is not right and ask a peace officer to step in.
As the peace officer supervising the volunteers and interacting with the seniors, it is enlightening when a senior knows that they have a connection to law enforcement and can call anytime. One female started crying when I told her she can call me anytime to talk about her concerns about her family pressuring her. In July 2020, DCSO Good Neighbor Program was awarded a 55k grant from the United States Department of Justice for innovative practices in community policing. It is a model that can be replicated in every community.
Our population has a large retirement community, and I am grateful that my employer Sheriff Dan Coverley believes as I do, that protecting our older Americans is important, and has given me the ability to grow this program.