For More Than 20 Years Seniors Have Helped Reduce Crime in Long Beach
Gerda, an elderly widow prone to wandering around Long Beach alone with her bank book in hand, had no family support and was perilously close to becoming a ward of Los Angeles County. But a guardian angel appeared in her life.
Mike Karlson, who has been serving the Long Beach community as a Senior Police Partner (SPP) volunteer for almost 20 years, put his experience to work for Gerda after getting a call from a concerned neighbor.
Karlson paid Gerda a “wellness check” visit, established a connection with her and eventually helped her get conservatorship and peace of mind.
SPP is a Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) volunteer program that has assisted the LBPD in many ways---including watching over the growing wave of Long Beach seniors---since 1995.
"We are seniors and we have the time to spend with the seniors," said Betty Jean Thompson, a four-year SPP veteran. "We are there to listen. I think that makes a big difference."
Peer support of Long Beach seniors is perhaps the most essential of the SPP's services, which also include such tasks as wellness checks, assistance at DUI checkpoints, disabled parking enforcement, special events assistance and presentations on senior safety and fraud education. The variety of services provided go a long way in helping the LBPD.
"Last year, the LBPD received over 600,000 calls for assistance," said Tom Leary, the Department’s Volunteer Coordinator since 2015.
Leary described the value he sees every day in having the senior volunteers support patrol officers and detectives, specifically with senior related crimes.
“Anything we can do to take some of the work off of the officers’ plates benefits both the department and the community,” said Leary.
SPPs are a diverse and experienced team; a former physician, attorney, human resource manager, nurses and U.S. postmasters can be found among the current volunteer staff of 25. Each one donates more than the minimum of 20 hours per month. On average, the senior volunteers donate more than 6,000 hours of community service each year.
The SPP training program is lengthy and rigorous but does not include firearms or physical restraint techniques. Prospective applicants undergo a series of interviews. Then they go for a ride-along in one of the SPP's four white SUVs with two Partners (SPPs always roll in pairs) to get a better feel for what an average SPP day would be like.
If the prospects like what they see, they will fill out the formal SPP application and undergo a thorough background check. After successfully completing the comprehensive background, prospects begin classroom training, becoming educated in basic law enforcement policies and procedures, senior care resources and communication skills.
After graduating from the classroom portion of the SPP training academy, recruits undergo three months of field training, in which they learn skills such as CPR, driver training and radio transmission techniques.
After passing all of the training requirements, the recruits officially become Senior Police Partners. They are later presented with their badges by Chief of Police Robert G. Luna. during an official graduation ceremony.
“Our Senior Police Partners have been a valuable part of our department for over 26 years,” said Chief Luna. “They connect our senior community with important services and information and serve as a tremendous resource to our patrol officers and detectives when they are handling a call or case that involves a senior in need of assistance.”
Greta’s helper Mike Karlson wears three gold stars on his impeccable SPP-issued white uniform shirt, one for each five-year increment he has served. Next year he'll be getting his fourth.
"So many of these seniors are just so lonely," said Karlson.
This may make them vulnerable to the increasing scams directed against the elderly. A wellness check from an observant SPP team may uncover and end a scam, as well as identify such issues as hoarding, cognitive problems, substance abuse, or elder abuse.
The SPPs also help by contacting Los Angeles County Adult Protective Services, Senior Links, family members and neighbors and partner with Meals on Wheels to assist seniors in need.
Throughout the year, senior partners participate in broader community engagement events, like the Veterans Day and Pride parades, the Special Olympics of Southern California and the annual Easter Egg Hunt hosted by the Long Beach Police Officers' Association. During the holidays they collect toys for the annual LBPD "Toy Patrol," where they deliver them to kids in need the Saturday before Christmas.
In other words, these senior volunteers work tirelessly to improve the quality of life for seniors and all residents in Long Beach.
"We have the time," said Karlson. "The officers don't. Sometimes even the caregivers don't."
Although they don’t receive monetary compensation, one senior volunteer reminded everyone at a recent recruitment event, "We're paid in a lot of ways other than cash."