Older Adult Crime Prevention Program helps seniors in St. Joseph County

Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable when it comes to crime.

We often hear about programs to help young victims of crimes, but what about our seniors?

In St. Joseph County, there has been a great resource for seniors and their families for nearly 40 years.

In that time, it has helped tens thousands of local seniors.

It has two important functions. It helps seniors who have become a victim of crime, and it helps prevent the elderly from ever becoming a victim of crime.

Barb Brownell heads up REAL Services Older Adult Crime Victim Program, which has been around since 1976.

Brownell says, “I get referrals from the Mishawaka Police Department, the South Bend Police Department and the St. Joe County Police Department. And what I mean by referrals, I mean somebody that's been a victim of crime, age 60 and above.”

Just last Monday, an 84-year-old St. Joe county man was pistol whipped during an apparent home invasion.

While not all cases are as high profile as this, crimes of all types against the elderly occur way too often in Michiana.

Brownell says, “I get around 12 to 15-hundred referrals...about three or four years ago when the economy was really bad, I saw it go up high, almost 16-hundred, but it's remained static, about 12-hundred.”

While she sees an average of 100 victims a month, she knows there are dozens more out there too afraid or embarrassed to come forward.

She is hoping to convince them it is okay, even essential, to seek help.

“A lot of seniors are isolated. A lot of them the family does not live in town. A lot of their friends have passed away and just like you and I would talk to our friends over a beer after work, a lot of times they don't have that camaraderie. So, it's good just to be a sounding board and listen to somebody because it makes you feel better just talking about it,” Brownell adds.

As a crime victim advocate, Brownell can make sure seniors get the services they need.

She says, “I will also assess community resources so if there is something else in the community that can help them, I know what that is; or if they've been having trouble getting services from somewhere I can call on their behalf and say "look, they're a crime victim, they need help with this."

So, what do the elderly most have to fear when it comes to crime?

Brownell says, “Interestingly enough, although seniors fear violent crime, and rightfully so, the older you get, the least likely you are to be a victim of violent crime. So sometimes seniors let their guard down in other areas because they're more worried about that.”

When asked what seniors are most often victims of, Brownell responds, “Identity theft, theft...something like they go outside to hang out the laundry and something gets taken out of their yard or someone comes in their back door because they don't think to lock the door when they're outside--that kind of thing. Also purse snatching is fairly common among seniors.”

That is why the other key component of the Older Adult Crime Victim program is prevention.

Advice on how not become a victim of identity theft, fraud, theft, burglary and a host of other crimes seniors fear.

Brownell says, “If they need a safety plan, how to make themselves more safe; crime prevention information, a home inspection--how to make their home more safe, cheap ways--there are cheap ways to make your home safe.”

She adds, “And I do like doing crime prevention presentations, so if a senior has a group, a church group, a social group that they want me to come and speak, that would be great and a lot of people said you gave great advice, and hopefully they'll use it and, yes, they won't be victimized the first time around.”

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