Elder Abuse

It’s my personal mission.  Since elected, I have served as co-chair of the California District Attorney’s Association Committee on Elder Abuse.

I’d like to take a moment to look at the legislative intent behind California’s Elder Abuse statute.

1. Legislative Intent Added to Penal Code Section 368 By
This Bill

This bill contains the following legislative findings and
declarations:

  1. The Legislature finds and declares that as the population of elders and dependent adults increases, the number of unscrupulous persons who prey on this population for the purpose of committing financial abuse will increase.
  2. The Legislature finds and declares that financial crimes against elders and dependent adults create greater harm than similar crimes against others because an elder or dependent adult has less ability to financially recover from these losses, as the elder or dependent adult is frequently living on a fixed income and has a reduced ability to earn new income.
  3. The Legislature finds and declares that crimes against elders and dependent adults are deserving of special consideration and protection, not unlike the special protections provided for minor children, because elders and dependent adults may be confused, on various medications, mentally or physically impaired, or incompetent, and therefore less able to protect themselves, to understand or report criminal conduct, or to testify in court proceedings on their own behalf.

I quote San Diego DDDA Paul Greenwood who said, “The demographics about elders and the blatant targeting of elders as crime victims should give us all a wakeup call and a renewed challenge to do more to protect our seniors and pursue their perpetrators.”

Here in Placer County we’ve heard that call.

We have an aging population, two Sun Cities and several other retirement communities, a strong economy and fast growing crime, specifically, fraud and identity theft. We know we need to be aggressive about combating this crime.

Seniors have become easy targets of abuse because they hold most of the assets in this country and are easy prey. Quite frankly, they do not make the best witnesses either as they are often forgetful or are hesitant to testify against a loved one. They often are victimized by family members. There’s a misperception that cases involving home repair fraud or financial abuse are better handled as civil cases. Elders make a perfect target from a perpetrators point of view.

A recent elder abuse paper developed by a team to brief incoming Attorney General Kamala Harris takes a look at current climate of elder Abuse. What did they find?

Issue: Elder abuse remains significantly underreported and prosecution response varies throughout the state. Victims need access to services to prevent abuse as well as be treated for the impact of abuse and to receive full restitution wherever possible.

Stakeholders include California Attorney General, District Attorneys, Administrative Offices of the Court, Sheriffs/Police Chiefs, State Bar of California, Adult Protective Services (APS), Ombudsmen and legal service providers.

Interesting Statistics: 10.6% of all elder abuse cases in the country occur in California. Within California, 5 of the 58 counties account for 52.5% of all the elder abuse cases. California’s elder population is projected to double by 2025.

California’s economy does not lend itself to expanded services for elders. Existing resources need to be coordinated and leveraged. The federal Elder Justice Act will provide state and local funding opportunities for APS, forensic centers and others.

Examples of what is currently being done well in California include the following:

Attorney General, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse Violent Crimes Unit and Facilities Enforcement Team

  • District Attorney Elder Abuse Vertical Prosecution Teams
  • Alameda County Elder Court
  • Napa County Protocol for the Reporting, Investigation and Prosecution of Elder and Dependent Abuse

Key challenges include:

  • Significant under-reporting of elder abuse to law enforcement
  • Lack of law enforcement investigation due to lack of training and resources
  • Elder financial abuse perceived as civil matter and lacks priority to violent crimes
  • Prosecutors reluctant to file elder abuse cases due to concerns regarding victim’s competency, reluctance to testify or unavailability due to illness or death
  • Cases often involve complicated medical and financial issues which smaller county offices do not have resources to develop
  • Insufficient training for police, coroners, medical examiners, prosecutors and judges
  • Statewide reporting and response system lacks a centralized telephone line and coordination among investigative agencies
  • Critical need for forensics expertise and information as well as funding to cover

What are we doing about it?

As our population ages we have become more adept at not only prosecuting cases involving the elderly as victims, but in educating the elderly in how to avoid being victimized. We feel we have the right people in place to move strongly forward as we tackle the elder abuse problem. Meet this team…

Placer County District Attorney’s Office

We have one prosecutor assigned specifically to prosecuting elder abuse crimes. Our elder abuse referrals are up.

The Placer County District Attorney’s Victim Services currently has one victim advocate and one support staff position who work exclusively with all elder and dependent adult victims of crime.

We feel that elder victims require constant support throughout the criminal justice process. In many instances the perpetrators are, in fact, the victim’s loved ones, making it that much more difficult to testify against them. Last year, this office worked closely with several hundred new victims. We expect these numbers to increase dramatically.

We can’t do it alone. And we need to be proactive in the community.

The most effective line of defense against elder abuse remains seniors themselves. By resisting high-pressure sales tactics, taking time to make decisions and – most importantly – discussing personal matters with trusted friends and loved ones, seniors can often prevent many forms of elder abuse. The information that we can provide seniors will help seniors protect themselves by further explaining elder abuse and giving tips for its prevention.

So we’ve developed, and continue to develop, collaborations and involvement of other agencies.

That’s why we’re here today.  We want to talk to you about what elder abuse looks like, educate you on some of the scams that are out there and let you know what you can do about it.