It is common knowledge that 85 percent of the law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have fewer than 50 officers. Of that 85 percent, 80 percent have less than 25 officers, and of that 80 percent, 65 percent have less than 12 sworn. What that translates into is this: the bulk of law enforcement is serving a small population base. Typically with small towns, there is a significant population of senior citizens. Additionally, a considerable number of senior citizens live alone.
One of the greatest fears and hazards for a senior citizen is isolation. Implementing a program to combat those fears and directly address the isolation issue serves a crucial part of the police mission. The program — which I’ve dubbed “Good Day, [Your Town]!” — is uncomplicated and simple in it design, but with it you can have significant and far-reaching results.
Step 1: Lay the Groundwork
Reach out to all agencies and organizations that have regular contact with senior citizens in your community. Organizations such as social services, houses of worship, Meals on Wheels, local food bank, senior centers, local thrift stores, the Salvation Army, and others can help you locate the elderly population living on their own to be served. Explain the program detailed below to the service providers and enlist their support in signing up individual senior citizens for a specific call list. Seniors would provide a block of time during the day they are most likely to be home or at a specific telephone number provided.
To get “Good Day, [Your Town]!” underway, create a detailed press release providing a contact number for easy registration. Brief presentations can be made to local organizations such as the Masons, Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis, Rotary, Eagles, Moose, etc. Almost all will have relatives that fall into one of these categories. They also can help compile a list of phone numbers of individuals they know personally who wish to participate.
Step 2: Implement the Program
Once a day, someone from the police department, whether it is an Officer, Chief, secretary or local intern, makes a quick telephone call to any citizen on the list to check on their well-being and let them know somebody cares. If the phone is not answered, a second call will be attempted and, if no success, then a third call will be placed. There should be an appropriate time lapse between each call attempt. All calls are placed within the timeframe the senior citizen gave as when they would most likely answer that call. If there is no answer after the three calls, an officer will perform a “welfare check call” at the person’s residence.
This type of program is obviously better suited for smaller jurisdictions that do not have a high frantic call volume. This type of service in a small town can greatly impact the quality of life of an elderly person or one who may have health concerns or needs.
At the outset, this program may seem to you or your staff to be an additional burden. But you will soon find there is great receptiveness and appreciation from a population who are often overlooked or ignored. The circular satisfaction of this program may surprise you and your department, and a positive experience can be had on both sides of the telephone receiver.
The salvation of true community policing is its direct contact with members of the community. But the challenge is keeping the citizen involved once initial contact has been established. The above program is one of several that will enable a department operating on a shoe-string budget to contact citizens across the entire socio-economic spectrum and keep them engaged for the long term.