Older adults should not fear violent crime

by Lee Horton

The older adults at the Tenth East Senior Center in Salt Lake City aren’t afraid of being targets of violent crime by strangers. They know the benefits of going to the center outweigh the potential of harm that might occur. Many of them don’t even think about the possibility of crime.

“I’ve never been afraid of that,” Josephine Chappell said.
Chappell, who goes by “Jo”, is 97 years old, and has been going to the Tenth Street Senior Center for over 40 years. The center has been operating for 46 years.

“They weren’t open very long when I started coming,” Chappell said.

Jerry Urlacher, center manager, is inclined to believe most of the people who come to the center feel like Chappell.
“I am confident that the majority of the people who come here do so without fear,” Urlacher said. “Maybe there are some who are afraid, but they are willing to risk it because of the advantages.”

Dean Allen Hall and his wife, Mary, understand the potential for crime. “I can see why, when you get to a certain age, you would worry about that,” Dean Hall said.

The Halls have seen the media coverage of crime. The front page of every newspaper, like the copy of the USA Today Mary is flipping through, highlights shootings, murders and home invasions. But beyond the gang activity he has read about, Dean Hall is not concerned. “I don’t scare too easily,” Hall said.

Scott Wright, director of the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program at the University of Utah does worry, but not about senior safety.

“Older adults have the highest fear of crime,” Wright said, “but are one of the lowest victims of crime.” Wright wonders if bodies and minds that have weakened with age make people question their personal safety in the outside world. Wright doesn’t want these fears to prevent older adults from getting out and continuing to experience life. “Life is long, or could be,” Wright said. “There is great potential for the second half of life.”

Records show violent crimes against older adults to be rare. The Utah Department of Health’s Bureau of Criminal Identification classifies murder, kidnapping/abduction, forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, forcible fondling, aggravated assault, simple assault and intimidation as violent crimes. According to the BIC’s preliminary 2008 statistics, people ages 60-95 were victims of only 785 of the 5,840 of violent crimes in Salt Lake City. That is just over 7 percent of the total.

Sergeant Gary Trost investigates violent crimes for the Salt Lake City Police Department. He doesn’t see many crimes committed against older adults by strangers. “We don’t see a lot of elderly abuse that is non-family,” Trost said.

While confident that the people who come to the Tenth East Senior Center aren’t afraid, Urlacher worries about those who don’t come.
“What frustrates me is there might be many who would benefit, but they are afraid,” Urlacher said.

Tenth East offers much to older adults. Pool tables, exercise programs, a computer lab, plus harmonica, art and Spanish classes are among the services the center provides to older adults. Each individual has his or her own reason to come to the center.

Urlacher says it isn’t what they do, but that they are doing something. “I think the very, very best thing is people are indeed out of their houses,” Urlacher said. “They’re with other people. They’re able to participate in exercises or be stimulated by the classes.”

Wright agrees that getting out is important. “The fountain of youth is being mentally and physically active,” Wright said.

While he whistles along to the song accompanying the exercise class at the other end of the cafeteria, Heinz Winkerman folds forks, knives and spoons into napkins, one at a time.

Because getting the silverware ready is a crucial part of serving meals that not many people think about, Urlacher calls Winkerman the “unsung hero of the center.”

Winkerman has been coming to Tenth East for seven years. He says he has been helping with the utensils for about six. Without warning, Winkerman went blind four months ago. “I said ‘what’s going on? Are the lights on or off?’” Winkerman said.
Winkerman thinks having a place to go and things to do has helped him deal with being blind. He admits that it has been tough, but feels that adapting is important. “You have to,” Winkerman said. “Life goes on.”

Despite his blindness, Winkerman still doesn’t worry too much about being a victim of a violent crime. He says his children and the people he goes to church with take good care of him, and a van gives him a ride to and from the Tenth East Senior Center whenever he wants to go.
Winkerman, Chappell and the Halls say they go to Tenth East every day. As they leave their house, crime isn’t one of their worries. The lone precaution Chappell and the Halls make is not going out when it is dark.

The Halls are more worried about the lack of manners by the people of Salt Lake City than becoming a victim of crime. Chappell is more concerned with how she is going to get her groceries and run errands. She feels she has no reason to be afraid of being hurt.
“Everybody’s been royal to me,” Chappell said. “Everybody.”