Arrest Rates for Elder Americans Are On the Rise

July 27, 2017

In the 1986 comedy, Tough Guys, ex-cons Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, well into their 60’s after serving years in prison for train robbery, decide to rob one again.  For most older Americans, however, whose paths are crossing with law enforcement, the interaction is far from deliberate.

In the decade ending in 2012 (the last year for which statistics are available), arrest rates fell by 11 percent among people 18 to 64. But it rose 23 percent for people over 55, and a shocking 28 percent among those over 65.

Consider the following:

  • In Bakersfield, Calif., a man in his seventies with dementia was shot and killed by police. He was walking in his neighborhood late at night. A woman noticed something in his pocket that could have been a gun.  She called the police. When they arrived, they told him to raise his hands. He paid no attention, continued his approach and was shot and killed. Tragically, the item in his pocket was a crucifix.
  • In Kansas, a sheriff’s deputy used a Taser on a nursing home resident in her nineties who had Alzheimer’s. She had refused to get into a car for a physician’s appointment.
  • A 65-year-old gentleman San Jose, California was arrested for trespassing. When the judge learned he had Alzheimer’s, the judge dismissed the charge.  He was released before a friend could pick him up, and he wandered onto a main roadway, where he was hit by a car and killed.
  • In San Francisco, in a community for elder adults, two women both with dementia got into an altercation over who was supposed to be sitting in a chair. One grabbed the other’s wrist. The second woman called 911, saying she had been attacked.  The police placed the first woman on a psychiatric hold. They handcuffed her and took her to the hospital. She was released a few hours later.

With an increasingly aging population, such events will only become more common. One thing that first responders are doing is becoming more familiar with dementia. Our local program, Dementia Friendly Orange County ( provides local businesses and organizations with training to help them recognize dementia and learn ways they can interact more successfully with folks who may have cognitive decline.

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