Police training

4.41       The Issues Paper acknowledged that, in recent years, police responses to family violence have greatly improved. It noted that some police agencies have specialist liaison officers or specialist vulnerable person units that can assist when the police are interacting with older persons who might be victims of crime. It also suggested that there may be some reluctance among police to ‘investigate  crimes such as fraud when the victim has dementia’.[43]

4.42       A significant number of stakeholders were supportive of increased police training as a mechanism to enhance the criminal justice system response to elder abuse.[44] Some suggested that this could be best achieved through the training and deployment of specialist officers or specialist units,[45] while others supported broader education campaigns to raise awareness of ‘elder abuse’.[46]

4.43       Key concerns raised by stakeholders included that police did not always respond appropriately to ‘low level’ abuse, including neglect or financial abuse; and that ageist perceptions of older persons could affect police dealings, including that older people would not make reliable or competent witnesses. 

4.44       The ALRC recognises that police in all states and territories are trained to respond to wide range of incidents. This includes training on identifying whether a criminal offence has been committed, and whether there is evidence to support an investigation. Police are also familiar with laws relating to protection or intervention orders, which can offer safeguards that can be, and are, initiated by police in appropriate circumstances including in respect of older persons suffering from elder abuse.

4.45       The ALRC notes that police receive comprehensive and ongoing training in respect of family violence, which is the context for a majority of abuse against older persons.[47]

4.46       While some forms of ‘elder abuse’ are criminal in nature, there are some forms of conduct that would fail to meet the criminal threshold of harm, and/or the evidentiary thresholds required to commence and/or sustain a prosecution. The ALRC has heard that where it is not appropriate or possible for police to take action (for example, where an incident is not clearly criminal or where a victim is unable to make a statement), police need to be supported by the availability of appropriate and accessible referral pathways. The issue appears to be one more of availability (or lack thereof) and appropriateness of referral services that can support people where concerns responded to by police do not meet the requisite standard for criminal justice response.

4.47       The proposed National Plan, as well as other proposals (including those relating to a new investigative role for the public advocate—Proposal 3-1) will assist in bridging this gap.