turning the corner...a review of law enforcement programs involving older driver safety


IDENTIFYING THE KEYS TO SUCCESS

The success of any senior driver program is due to inclusion of key components. Successful replication depends on identifying these components, recognizing their value, and including them in local programs. Each component is important but dependent; together they work in tandem with the other elements, leading to overall success of the program. Their relative significance depends on many factors, such as size of the law enforcement agency, size and nature of the community, level of community involvement, and other factors.

Partnerships and Community Involvement

Perhaps the most essential trait shared among the programs profiled in this report is their reliance on partnerships and communities. Law enforcement can’t be all things to all people, and sheriffs shouldn’t “reinvent the wheel.” Many other agencies, both public and private, have outreach programs aimed at senior drivers. The role of law enforcement in finding solutions to senior driver problem must include meaningful cooperation between and among local agencies. Effective on-going partnerships are key to the success of older driver outreach programs. In each of the programs highlighted in this report, the sheriffs have recognized this fact and taken advantage of resources available outside their own agencies.

That is not to say that sheriffs haven’t committed resources of their own. Each has successfully assessed the needs of their citizens, the resources available in their communities, and the resources at their disposal within their respective offices. Afterwards, these components have been combined to maximize their delivery and impact on the public without unnecessarily duplicating efforts or products.

The potential of effective partnership with community groups cannot be overstated. For example, the Ross County Senior Citizen’s Center needed a van or bus to transport senior citizens who couldn’t drive to events. The center couldn’t afford a new vehicle and was unable to locate a used one that fit its needs and budget. The sheriff’s office successfully negotiated with a local car dealership to sell the center a van at the dealer’s cost. The dealership traded its normal handling and profit markups for a credit painted on the outside of the van. The savings for the center was significant and allowed it to acquire a new, state-of-the-industry van that maximized safety and comfort for its senior passengers.

TRIAD

One of the most recognizable partnerships is the Triad. Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police are already familiar with Triads, which have proven their value as successful partnerships for nearly two decades. A Triad, as the name implies, is an alliance of three entities. It teams the county’s sheriff’s office with its police and senior-citizen community leaders who agree to work together to ensure seniors’ safety needs are met. The Triad’s national partners, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), launched Triad in 1988, and local Triads have been sprouting up across the country ever since.

An integral part of a local Triad is its SALT council, an advisory council of senior citizens and law enforcement representatives that provides a forum for seniors to address law enforcement and an information conduit between the two groups. Many SALT councils create bylaws, incorporate or file for tax-exempt status, and develop mission and goal statements. Most meet regularly to take up the council’s business.

AARP is the sponsor of the most widely available and most well known senior driver program in the country, the AARP Driver Safety Program. AARP volunteers have presented the course to more than 9 million senior drivers, sometimes through Triads. The close relationship between IACP, NSA, and AARP makes AARP’s Driver Safety Program a popular choice for law-enforcement-sponsored elderly driver education. It is popular with many seniors too, because it is relatively inexpensive and many insurance companies offer discounts to policyholders who have completed the course

Community Liasons

Liaisons, coalitions, and task forces offer numerous benefits to participants and their value is widely known to law enforcement managers. These alliances can be beneficial to all participants because of the opportunities for networking, shared resources, lightened work load, etc., and can result in greater efficiency, higher quality service, and enhanced morale.

Many projects and challenges are technical in nature and often exceed the expertise and resources of the lone law enforcement officer or even the entire agency. Collaboration with others provides a synergistic benefit that can optimize results. This is especially true of interdisciplinary collaborations where members bring a variety of skills to the table.

Law enforcement organizations lacking a Triad or other formal coalitions such as DriveSmart can join or create less formal partnerships with community-based organizations. Their composition will vary by location and mission, but members might include community organizations, government agencies, businesses and individuals representing law enforcement, transportation, public works, motor vehicle administrators, educators, health and injury prevention specialists, parents, aging advocates, retailers, and manufacturers.

The benefits of community coalitions may reach well beyond senior drivers. The goodwill generated and enjoyed by the police agency that participates in community-based alliances can be a valuable tool in other problems police encounter.

Committed Leadership

No program can succeed without a commitment from its leadership. In the programs described in this publication, the sheriff was supportive of, and in some cases the catalyst for, these programs.

Effective CEOs and managers recognize traffic safety is integral to the overall mission of law enforcement. Although there are many competing programs that deserve the attention and resources of a law enforcement agency, sheriffs in those agencies profiled here have created and maintained a commitment to traffic safety generally, and to senior drivers specifically. In addition, they have allocated financial resources to support the programs and have generated public support for them through various channels. These sheriffs also recognized the leadership traits of program supervisors in their offices who demonstrate the ability and finesse to mobilize systems and people to achieve program goals. They make the programs thrive.

Motivated Employees

It is not enough to select the “right” sergeant or the “right” captain to lead a unit or implement a program. Talent has to exist and be cultivated at every operational level — especially on the line. The men and women on the line have the final responsibility to apply management philosophy and to deliver a product that is successful to the degree that the Office of Sheriff and the citizens can equally share.

Officials in Franklin County pointed out that their Triad deputies are able to empathize with their senior population. The deputies themselves are mature, with most of them retired from another career field. They are deliberately selected for their wisdom, compassion, and sensitivity. Their age and experience provide credibility; when a senior citizen reminisces about an old song or a classic TV show, the deputy can share their memory. The deputies also can empathize with the seniors’ aging concerns. Franklin County attributes these deputies with being a major asset of its overall program.
Officials in both Ross and Franklin Counties described their deputies as decision makers with strong personal traits. The sheriffs empower these employees with the authority to complete their tasks.

Trained Staff

The Triads are staffed with competent, well-trained deputies. The personnel charged with delivering older driver training to the community have been trained to deal effectively with seniors. They have been trained to be sensitive to the special needs of senior citizens and have received training about dementia and its effects.

Law enforcement officers who receive training about dementia are better skilled at recognizing its signs in an afflicted driver. Knowing they are dealing with a dementia victim, these officers can better assess the situation and intervene effectively. Quick and appropriate law enforcement intervention restores safety to the roadway and frees officers to resume their traditional roles.

Proactive Organizations

The visionary sheriffs and managers in the agencies profiled here have assumed the responsibility of preparing today’s law enforcement officers for tomorrow’s challenges. They manage their organizations under a community-oriented policing model through which they maintain contact with the community and evaluate its needs. They have recognized the need to provide senior driver resources and have mobilized assets to address the community’s need.

Through these efforts they in turn enjoy the goodwill of their communities. A good example can be found in the Franklin County program. Unable to fund the purchase of a new computer for the Triad database, officials there relied on the goodwill of the community. A local bank donated the computer and related equipment and no public funds were needed to increase the project’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Innovators

The sheriffs whose organizations are described in this publication are innovative leaders. They aren’t satisfied with maintaining the status quo, choosing instead to keep their agencies on the cutting edge. They see themselves as leaders in their communities and in their profession. They choose to “look outside the box” for solutions, and are known to be proactive as opposed to reactive policing executives.

Adaptable Organizations

Each of these sheriffs’ offices can be described as adaptable. Their adaptability keeps them viable to their service bases. As environments change, successful organizations recognize, evaluate, and respond to change according to their missions. Their employees are flexible and able to adjust to change and as a result the entire organization embraces change. Flexible staffs are able to fluidly adapt to changing difficulties, technologies, and expanding roles.

Conclusion

Though the issues raised by an aging driver population are not foremost in the minds of many law enforcement executives, these are real issues that cannot be disregarded. Sheriffs and police chiefs cannot ignore the fact that their populations are aging, nor can they overlook the many ways aging baby boomers will impact traffic enforcement and service delivery.
Different communities have tackled the problems in different ways. Sheriffs and police chiefs who have not yet developed a plan to cope with the senior driver phenomenon can duplicate successful programs highlighted in this publication now, in proactive fashion, rather than later in a reactive response to a crisis scenario. No law enforcement agency has to go it alone.

Many community resources are already in place so law enforcement can quickly and easily join with them to build state-of-the-industry senior driver training that fits the needs of the local population.

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