HACKENSACK, NJ - The County of Bergen, a grantee of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life Program, has emerged as a leader in education and training for law enforcement on elder abuse and exploitation.
The Bergen County Department of Human Services, Division of Senior Services, in partnership with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bergen County Police Chief’s Association began the rollout of online training on elder abuse for police officers and detectives in summer of 2021. To date, over 600 officers across 25 local police departments in Bergen County including the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office have registered for and are actively completing the online training course.
In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the need to safeguard older adults against abuse and exploitation has never been more critical. An estimated 38% of Bergen County residents are 50 and older, and training and education are vital in the protection and safety of the county’s growing senior population. According to Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco III, “This training program gives officers and detectives key information, tools, and resources to aide them in their role in the fight against elder abuse, and the strong response from law enforcement affirms that Bergen County is a place where older adults are kept safe, and where those who perpetrate elder abuse and exploitation are held accountable for their actions.”
Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton said, “The goal of the program is to help educate officers and detectives on specific issues related to elder abuse that they may not be familiar with, and to prepare them for working with older adult populations.”
The training program is the first-of-its kind in New Jersey and consists of 23 short, interactive modules that teach officers about topics such as the dynamics of elder abuse, working with older victims and with Adult Protective Services (APS) and other professionals, and victim-centered investigations. Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella, whose office helped coordinate outreach for the training program said, “We are proud to support this comprehensive training that was developed by a multi-disciplinary team of stakeholders who understand the unique challenges associated with identifying, investigating, and prosecuting crimes against seniors. These crimes are frequently perpetrated behind closed doors and the abuse may not be readily apparent; therefore, it is critical that officers are trained to recognize red flags, to understand the reluctance or inability of victims to participate in the investigative process, and to know what support organizations exist within the community.”
“So often, elder abuse flies below the radar, and the isolation from COVID-19 has only made it worse,” said Commissioner Chairwoman Tracy S. Zur. “This new training is a game-changer, as our local law enforcement partners will be better equipped to detect and react to support our vulnerable senior citizens.”
The ultimate goal for this program is to achieve universal adoption among Bergen County’s 70 police departments, ensuring that all law enforcement officers participate in this important training.