Police Beat: Involved seniors make a healthy and safer community

I recently met with a group of retired Centretown community members who were looking at what resources were available in the downtown community for seniors.

They requested to meet with me to go over what services the Ottawa Police Service offers to seniors to address their safety and security concerns. This meeting generated lots of healthy discussion about what concerns seniors the most and it became evident that seniors feel most vulnerable when they are disconnected from the rest of society. As society moves forward at accelerated pace, senior entering or settling into their retirement years often feel pushed aside by a society that is consumed with consuming and fixated on getting ahead. So while we fixate on things like careers, making profits and using technology to improve our lives (does it really?), seniors are looking to enjoy a relaxing day in their community far away from the stresses that consumes most of us non-retired folks everyday. For many seniors, the prospect of actually being able to enjoy their retirement is threatened by the fact that they feel that the world around them in no longer such a friendly place to live in. They are constantly bombarded by sensational media reports of crime, societal disorder, natural disasters, flu pandemics, environmental issues, genocides and wars in foreign countries and domestically, the American economic crisis also now threatens their financial security! Add the stress of an aging body, impending health issues and the increasing reliance on every changing and complex technology advances, it’s easy to see why seniors can feel vulnerable and out of touch with the rest of society.

So with all this doom and gloom, perhaps this is why I am seeing more and more seniors opting to move into these new retirement homes that are popping up everywhere. Maybe seniors feel that these retirement homes are the best option for them as these homes are set up to cater to their everyday needs and can best insulate them from the perils of a seemingly hostile world. That is, for those who can afford these retirement homes, because they don’t come cheap. As seniors increasingly migrate back into the fold of the urban downtown landscape, many of them do so with some anxiety because they are somewhat fearful that the downtown core has become a bit of a urban jungle. At least that’s what the average Hollywood gangster movie would have them believe. Well, I have spent the last two and half years addressing their concerns through various presentation and discussions and this is what I have found. While most seniors are worried about being accosted or mugged on the city streets by some crack addicted stranger, they should be more concerned about becoming the victim of a telephone/letter/e-mail/banking fraud scam, identity theft or being the victim of elder abuse, be it physical, emotional, psychological or even financial. Most seniors are very surprised when I report that they are more likely to suffer from elder abuse than a mugging and they are even more surprised when I tell them that the person abusing them is more likely to be their caregiver who is usually an acquaintance or family member! In fact, the Ottawa Police Service has a unit completely dedicated to raising awareness of elder abuse issues and investigating the increasing incidents of it in the community, especially since we now have a large demographic of seniors that are retired and need care.

But I digress…

So what’s the solution to all of this? How do we overcome this trend of seniors isolating themselves from the rest of society and spending their remaining years hidden away in some retirement home or retirement community? How do we encourage them to overcome their angst at becoming engaged in a society that seems to run at the pace o the fastest, not the slowest? I did not have to look far for some answers. You see, the Somerset Community Police Centre is successful in its service delivery of crime prevention programs to the community because volunteers essentially run it. Yes, I am there to guide the ship, but if it were not for the volunteers in the Centre, very little would be accomplished. And you know what? Seniors are my best volunteers. Why is that, you may ask? Well, in my two and a half years as a Community Police Officer, I have found my volunteers, who are seniors, to be the most reliable. They are also the most knowledgeable, the most interested in security and safety issues, the most well rounded as individuals, the most enthusiastic, appreciative, compassionate and more importantly, they have the time to engage themselves!

Yes folks, what I have come to realize more and more these days is that it is typically seniors who really “get it”. They understand first hand the importance of civic engagement and are prepared to do what it takes to make a positive contribution in their communities. Not to take away anything from young people who volunteer their time, but seniors who engage themselves in their communities are priceless. So, with the baby boomer generation easing their way into retirement, I see a tremendous opportunity for all of us busy working people to reach out to this older demographic of hard working, highly skilled and compassionate people and encourage them to participate in our communities in a significant way. Let us not adopt this “survival of the fittest” attitude and let’s take the time to listen to what seniors have to say about how to make the community a better place for everyone to live, work and play. They will often tell you that we need to slow things down so that we can appreciate the virtues of a good community, which includes young, middle aged and old as well as those who have and those who have less. So, maybe its time the rest of us “get it” and see what we can do to include seniors in our communities. Because with seniors walking along our streets, sitting on park benches, shopping in our stores, sitting on front porches, talking to our children, talking to parents, gardening their front lawns, showing us the importance of civic engagement and community service, we end up with a community that is healthy, vibrant and safe. I know first hand that a community that includes it senior residents is a much easier community to patrol because those communities are empowered and willing to help make a difference at the end of the day. It is those communities that are willing to work with police and other community service providers to be part of the solution. By investing in seniors, we are investing in our own quality of life and the future of our communities because seniors are a very valuable resource that is sustainable and free! So as the rest of us grow older everyday, it would be nice to know that when its our turn to be called a senior citizen, there will be a place for us in our community’s backyard.