Police officers may be trained to deal with dementia

Photo of Senator Danny Burgess courtesy: Florida Politics

In a proactive move towards ensuring the safety and well-being of Florida’s elderly population, Senate Bill 208, championed by Senator Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, aims to establish a comprehensive training program for law enforcement officers focused on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.

This bill  underscores the pressing need for specialized training to equip officers with the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively interact with individuals experiencing cognitive impairments and to address potential risks such as abuse, neglect or exploitation.

The cornerstone of SB 208 is the creation of an optional online course developed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in collaboration with the Department of Elder Affairs. This course will provide officers with essential insights into communicating with individuals afflicted by dementia, recognizing behavioral patterns indicative of the condition, and teaching alternative strategies to physical restraint when necessary. 

Officers will also be trained to identify signs of potential abuse or neglect, thereby enhancing their ability to safeguard vulnerable members of the community.

During a recent hearing of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Burgess emphasized the importance of balancing the need for additional training with the operational demands placed on law enforcement personnel. He said that SB 208 represents a significant step forward in augmenting the skill set of officers while acknowledging the complexities of their roles. However, some stakeholders, including senior public policy analyst Olivia Babis Keller of Disability Rights Florida, advocate for mandatory training and stress the importance of ongoing dialogue with affected families to ensure comprehensive support.

The unanimous approval of SB 208 by the committee underscores recognition of the urgency for law enforcement officers in addressing the challenges posed by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. 

With Florida’s senior population projected to face a significant increase in Alzheimer’s diagnosis, proactive measures such as this legislation are crucial to enhancing community safety and well-being.

Tallahassee City Commissioner Jack Porter commends the initiative, affirming the importance of equipping law enforcement with the necessary tools to protect vulnerable residents. She emphasizes the significance of ensuring that officers possess the requisite training and expertise to respond effectively to diverse community needs.

“With SB 208, we are taking an important step in ensuring the protection of some of our most vulnerable residents, such as people with dementia,” Porter said. “It’s in everyone’s best interest that our law enforcement have the tools and training they need to do their jobs, and that the right people are responding to best meet our community’s needs.”

As Florida moves towards implementation of SB 208, it underscores the state’s commitment to proactive, compassionate, and effective law enforcement practices. By prioritizing specialized training in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, lawmakers are not only enhancing officer capabilities but also fostering a safer and more inclusive community for all residents.

SB 208 represents a pivotal advancement in addressing the complex intersection of law enforcement and dementia care. By prioritizing education, awareness and compassion, Florida is poised to set a standard for proactive community engagement and protection of vulnerable populations.

The Senate’s Criminal and Civil Justice Committee voted 9-0 on Thursday to advance SB 208 to the Fiscal Policy Committee.