Visit to Senior Center Ends in Conversation with a Police Officer

Courtesy Photo

Traumatizing is the word used by longtime Davis resident Jim Leonard and an elderly couple who just moved to Davis, after a visit to the Davis Senior Center ended with a visit by a Davis police officer.  That the officer, described as a younger woman, was completely professional and kind in her interactions with the three did little to shake the feeling that she never should have been called in the first place.

In fact, one of the problems was that they were never informed by the officer or staff at the senior center that the call was due to concern for the health and well being of the elderly couple.  While Mr. Leonard did not know the exact problem that the man suffers from, it would appear to have beeen some sort of stroke – leading to some confusion and disorientation.

The Vanguard sat down with the three earlier this week at the couple’s home.  Jim Leonard explained that the they went to the senior center to return some property borrowed from the senior center, but, while they were there, he asked staff to explain to the couple what the senior center was and what services were offered there.

He sensed something amiss at that point, as the head person came over to him and starting grilling him about various things.

“Why do I have to be grilled?” he asked himself.  “Do I appear to be a dangerous character?”

He had asked the staff if they could bring out the piano so that the man – evidently an accomplished piano player – could play.  The staff’s response was no, that the piano only comes out for events.

Mr. Leonard explained that he started to call around trying to find a piano, at one point contacting Atria Covell Gardens.  He had asked a woman at the desk to write down the number and she was reluctant – he ended up pushing her to do so.

“I exerted a little bit of pressure on her, but not much,” he explained later.

Getting nowhere, they left the senior center.  But when they got out to the car, the officer came over, lights on, and confronted them.

According to the officer, the head director had asked the elderly man if he knew who Jim was and he responded no.  Then she asked if he knew where he was and he responded no.  The wife denies this conversation ever took place – she was next to him the entire time.

It was not until the Vanguard contacted Lt. Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department that we learned the police call had actually been for a wellness check on the elderly couple.  No one had informed the three people of the nature of the call.

According to Lt. Doroshov, the police received a call from the senior center.  According to the caller, “the couple appeared to be disoriented to some extent.”  Staff asked “for a check on the elderly couple to make sure they were okay.”

The officer arrived, made contact, and cleared them with no further issues.

Jim Leonard, in a follow up phone conversation, told the Vanguard: “The way I was treated by the staff at the senior center made me and the people I was with extremely uncomfortable.  Unfortunately it is doubtful that the people I came with will be going back to the senior center.”

He believes that the senior center overreacted to the situation by calling the police to begin with.

He noted, “When I go down to the senior center, I rarely see seniors.  I’m wondering if that’s the reason.”

Mr. Leonard had positives to say about the police officer, describing her as “very nice and professional.”  He said she was “very warm” and “approached in a very non-threatening way.  I have no problem with her.  It seems like a waste of resources to have her involved.”

City Manager Mike Webb, in a statement to the Vanguard, said, “Our police are a resource to help, and we never want to discourage people from calling the Police Department if they feel someone may be in need of assistance.  Police are trained to assess a situation, perform a wellness check, and follow up if, or as, necessary.”

Still, had she informed the three as to the purpose of the call, it might have put some of their anxiety at ease.  The couple told the Vanguard that they felt very traumatized by the incident.  Even a few days afterward, the man seemed quite shaken and said he doesn’t want to go back.

Jim Leonard never felt very welcome by the senior center, and described his treatment as “very cold.”  He stated, “Senior centers don’t have to be like this.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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    1. David Greenwald

      That’s why I talked to the city and police and got a full briefing on what happened.  The city definitely stands by how this was handled, but I think the impact of having the police serve the purpose of welfare checking is something we might want to reconsider given how encounters with the police – even well-intentioned ones like this one – can be traumatic.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Well David, you should really look at the world… and see…

        I worked on a suicide prevention hot-line for two years… felt a strong need to send ‘authorities’ to do “welfare checks” ~7-8 times… 3 times, contact was made, and turns out there was no imminent issue.  3-4 times, intervention was necessary, and outcomes were OK… once… a particularly ‘high lethality’ call, I never heard the outcome… shortly before we moved back to Davis… never worked a SP hot-line thereafter.

        Police are the only ones who can safely do a welfare check… some folk, particularly seniors, are not just at risk of themselves, but possibly by others, who are in a position of malicious ‘control’.  That is real!

        To ignore warning signs, is like not wanting to get involved seeing someone apparently injured in a crash.  Lest “aid” be considered intrusive, or being liable for doing something.

        You and Mr Leonard seem to be barking up the wrong tree…

        Forgetting the particulars here, had Senior Center staff done nothing, and days/weeks later the couple was found to have been injured, or worse, would you not be railing against staff, for not trusting their instincts/concerns, and doing nothing?

        Based on the City accounts, it was handled well, and I question the motivations/perceptions of your source(s).

  1. Alan Miller

    Wow.  This actually passes for a piece in the DV?  I have a pocket full of stories like this from years in Davis involving misunderstanding between a slightly awkward situation and a misunderstanding by authorities – I think most of us do.  Some were easily resolved when reasonable people were involved, others devolved due to idiots being involved, usually I have been able to calm elevated heart rates, if I chose to.  What perplexes me is — who and why would someone take a common incident like this — something that just happens in life, that didn’t result in any injuries or death, and bring it to a local blog?  And why oh why, would said blog entertain it as a story?  I think we need a hurricane or a war or a nuclear blast nearby to remind Davis-“ites” just what a suffering bear life can be.  Or maybe I’ll just share one of MY stories — “y’know, the other day I took my cat to the vet, and the unthinking dog owner had a dog that barked at my cat, and my cat was traumatized so I called the police . . . “

        1. Bill Marshall

          OK… given the background, how would you have handled it? What is your concrete proposal?

          Fish or cut bait… better than questioning others, n’est-ce pas?

          1. David Greenwald

            I would have started with a conversation with the parties. I think they could have pretty quickly assessed the situation – as the cop did and I did later when I met with them. I also think in general such checks would be better conducted by non-sworn officers or social workers, but that’s a bigger issue. The department had a grant for a year or so for a counselor, I think that’s a far better approach.

      1. Rick Entrikin

        This is the poorest excuse for “journalism” I’ve yet seen on the Vanguard (and THAT’s saying a lot).  I have been attending events and taking classes at the Senior Center for six years and have always been treated with respect and courtesy.  But, admittedly, I’ve never just popped in and asked staff to stop their work and leave their post, open a heavy, closed barn-door closet and roll out the very large, heavy piano, without notice.  I’ve never been shy about criticizing City staff or council members, but I consider the Senior Center staff as perfect examples of everything public employees should be.  They are responsive, attentive, TOTALLY professional and extremely caring and understanding.  Mr. Leonard’s snide remark about not seeing seniors at the Senior Center tells me all I need to know about his lack of observational skills and reliability as a “news” source.  In fact, the Senior Center serves hundreds of people daily, including scores of people for community meals, plus a wide variety of classes and events that are open to ALL people.  In fact, the people I see at the Center are among the most diverse (if not THE most diverse) of any gathering place in Davis.  And the staff are so kind, caring and professional, that it must take a special person to arouse their suspicion.  And since elder abuse is an increasingly common, serious problem, I applaud both the Senior Center staff and the Davis Police Department for their swift action to ensure the safety of the elderly couple.  One might wonder how even the most amateurish, self-described  “journalist” could publish such a one-sided piece, but David Greenwald did – apparently because it gave him another opportunity to criticize the Davis Police Department for doing their job.  And one more thing:  If David Greenwald actually agrees with Mr Leonard about the Senior Center staff, maybe David should demonstrate the strength of his convictions by not holding any more Vanguard fundraisers at the Center with the assistance of those very same staff members.

  2. Craig Ross

    Biases come out when you read comments on stuff like this.  Most white people are apparently okay with police encounters.  I get it.  But I know as a person of color, I’d be right there with Jim on this one.  Especially with the cop not informing them that it was wellness check rather than something else.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Craig, with all due respect, starting a contact with “hi, this is a wellness check…”, sets up a lot of defenses, “biases”, from those contacted.  Like, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”…

      Ideally, a concerned, trained citizen, in plain clothes, no vehicle, would approach and ask the right questions, and be in a position to defend themselves or others if there WAS a real problem!  Dream on!

      I was trained for intervention assessment and know how to be aware of my surroundings, but still… suspect less than 2% of the Davis population even has that…

      So Craig, as I posed to David, what would you have done?  Or are you just spit-balling?

      Give us an alternative, instead of a vague, “we should do it differently”.

    2. Alan Miller

      Oh, yeah!  I totally forgot to bring color and race into this, with a dollop of anti-police bias.  Thanks, CR!  I totally forgot “where I was”.  So let’s get to the real issue here:  what color was the couple in question, was this a racial incident, and if so, where the police mistreating this people because of their skin color?

      NOW, we have a Vanguard piece!  You’re the best, CR!

  3. Rick Entrikin

    Oh, NOW I get it.  If police officers do NOT wear uniforms or announce that they are police officers on Picnic Day, they are in the wrong.  But, if they DO wear a uniform during the week, when called for a welfare check, they are in the wrong.  Yep, Vanguardian logic at its best.  Reminds of that old tune, “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be….”

  4. PhilColeman

    An unsubstantiated story–based entirely on hearsay reporting from a biased source–is partially investigated by Vanguard. Considerable effort was extended to the accusers including a personal home visit. Most of the column space was devoted to a detailed presentation and analysis from the accusers.

    In stark contrast, no attempt was made to contact the Senior Center Staff, the initiator of the process and subsequent complaint about overreaction. Instead, the police are contacted as well as the City Manager. All aspects of the Senior Center’s staff role in this incident are described by these City folks who weren’t even there, thus the summation of the City’s role is hearsay twice removed.

    The City is depicted as being comfortable with the process and outcome. No details are given on how the City reached this conclusion.  There must have been some follow-up by somebody to somebody for that assuring judgment, but we’re left with a head full of question marks and muddled confusion.


      1. Rick Entrikin

        Of course the City of Davis “runs” the Davis Senior Citizens Center and “the folks working (there) are city employees?”  So what’s your point ?  Are you implying that those folks might be biased against brash, confrontational white guys?

  5. Alan Miller

    By the way, I’ll be heading over to the Senior Center this evening with my cat about 6:00pm.  I’ll be dressed up as Michigan J. Frog and my cat will be playing the piano, and we’re going to be tearing up a searing rendition of  “Hello my Ragtime Gal”.  I could use some help moving the piano if anyone with some strength could come by to assist.

    Hello my baby, hello my honey 
    Hello my ragtime, summertime gal 
    Send me a kiss by wire, by wire 
    Baby, my heart’s on fire, on fire

    1. Rick Entrikin

      Would have suggested Jim Leonard and  David Greenwald as possible piano movers, but don’t imagine they’ll be going to the Senior Center anytime soon.


  6. Tia Will

    Police are the only ones who can safely do a welfare check”

    I have a very different take on this aspect of the article and comments. A few years ago, hours, after a police welfare check was performed on children in Davis, a five-year-old was drowned by the mother, reportedly to save the child from being taken away by the police. The family was known to social services who were not contacted by the police making the assessment. The mother was known to have mental health problems.

    My take on this situation is that a well-being check is not only not necessarily best performed by the police, but that it should never be conducted exclusively by the police and should always include cross-referencing with county social services.

    1. David Greenwald

      This is an important point.  The problem is police are not trained to be social workers.  There is a reason why interactions between police and mentally ill individuals at times end up badly and also a reason the city participated in pilot program to put counselors with police officers on calls like this.  This piece wasn’t intended to be a criticism of the police officer who from all accounts handled the situation properly.

    2. Alan Miller

      My take on this situation is that a well-being check is not only not necessarily best performed by the police, but that it should never be conducted exclusively by the police and should always include cross-referencing with county social services.

      Are there even remotely the resources available to make such social workers available to be on call and within reach of all such welfare checks?  The sounds like a bit of a logistical challenge, if not a funding challenge.  Aren’t the police more of a ‘first check’ mechanism that is always available and mobile, that then contacts other services as necessary?  While the listed incident is a tragedy, I cannot imagine that because one horrible incident occurs that this can be a condemnation of the system in place.

        1. Alan Miller

          I remember that, but was there any followup on how it went, why it didn’t get extended (and not ‘the funding ran out’)?  And that goes to my point about funding and logistics.  Is there someone on call 24/7, and then instead of going to the welfare check, the police officer has to go pickup the social worker in Woodland and drive back to Davis, and 45 minutes has passed?  Seems one advantage of using police is they are already on call, covering the entire geography, and can get there quick.  While they aren’t social workers, that doesn’t mean they are ‘untrained’ to do a welfare check.  Indeed, the next step may be calling in a social worker.  Police are ‘first response’ in many situations, and they have to do triage.

        1. Alan Miller

          “Do I appear to be a dangerous character?”Hard to tell from your photo . . . 

          While it is may be hard to tell from JH’s photo, it is not hard to tell from mine.  I appear to be a large white bear, but, removing the head, there is a bloody-red skull underneath.  So I ask you, “Do I appear to be a dangerous character?”.

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