In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative, the IACP developed a six-part roll call video series which enables law enforcement to better identify signs of elder abuse and recognize evidence that can lead to a successful prosecution.
Part four of the roll call video series, Identifying and Responding to Elder Abuse: An Officer’s Role, retells a case from St. Paul, Minnesota, where an elderly man was physically abusing his elderly wife. This case begins when a neighbor visited the Thill home and saw that Mrs. Thill was in need of medical attention and immediately called 911. Once Mrs. Thill arrived, hospital staff called the St. Paul (MN) Police Department, as they were concerned that Mrs. Thill’s condition was a direct result of physical abuse.
When law enforcement arrived at the Thill residence, Mr. Thill claimed that his wife’s injuries were the result of an accidental fall. Despite his claim of innocence, the officers had enough evidence to arrest Mr. Thill. Mrs. Thill would explain to the investigating officers that she was terrified of her husband and that, on prior occasions of abuse, Mr. Thill would warn her that if she ever reported him, no one would believe her. In addition to law enforcement involvement in this case, this video also highlights the important role of victim advocates. Mrs. Thill’s advocate made her feel comfortable enough to discuss her abuse and fear that her husband would retaliate. With the help of the victim advocate, Mrs. Thill was able to obtain an order of protection.
Mr. Thill was found guilty of assault on a vulnerable adult and is no longer able to harm Mrs. Thill. An important takeaway in this case is that officers should pay attention to areas of bruising. While bruising is common among older adults, bruising that exists on the head, neck, soles of the feet, buttocks, torso, or bruises that are larger than 5cm (about 2 inches) should raise suspicion that potential abuse is taking place. Additionally, it is important to note the demeanor of the elderly individual, especially if they are withdrawn and quiet. An officer should not assume that an individual’s lack of response is a symptom of normal aging. According to Officer Michael Dollerschell of the St. Paul (MN) Police Department, “A lot of times victims will lie to officers just to protect themselves from further abuse.” Being observant of both physical and behavioral factors when responding to calls plays a critical role in identifying physical abuse against vulnerable older adults.
The roll call videos and other elder abuse resources can be found at https://www.theiacp.org/elder-abuse.