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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Police on the front line of community geriatric health care: challenges and opportunities.

  • Author(s): Brown, Rebecca T
  • Ahalt, Cyrus
  • Steinman, Michael A
  • Kruger, Kelly
  • Williams, Brie A
  • et al.

Published Web Location

As the population ages, police increasingly serve as first responders to incidents involving older adults in which aging-related health plays a critical role. The goals of this study were to assess police officers' knowledge of aging-related health, to identify challenges police experience in their encounters with older adults, and to describe their recommendations for how to address those challenges. This was a mixed-methods study of 141 San Francisco police officers recruited from mandatory police trainings between 2011 and 2013. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze 141 self-administered questionnaires, and principles of grounded theory were used to analyze open-ended questionnaire responses and 11 additional qualitative interviews. Eighty-nine percent of officers reported interacting with older adults at least monthly. Although 84% of police reported prior training in working with older adults, only 32% rated themselves as knowledgeable about aging-related health. Participants described themselves as first responders to medical and social emergencies involving older adults and identified several challenges, including identifying and responding to aging-related conditions and ensuring appropriate medical and social service handoffs. To address these challenges, officers recommended developing trainings focused on recognizing and responding to aging-related conditions and improving police knowledge of community resources for older adults. They also called for enhanced communication and collaboration between police and clinicians. These findings suggest that, because they assume a front-line role in responding to older adults with complex medical and social needs, many police may benefit from additional knowledge about aging-related health and community resources. Collaboration between police and healthcare providers presents an important opportunity to develop geriatrics training and interprofessional systems of care to support police work with a rapidly aging population.

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