An open letter to law enforcement agencies regarding crimes against older adults and adults with disabilities written by a Fraud Unit Sergeant.
“I am willing to bet that during your hiring process most of you wrote something to the effect of wanting to help others that cannot protect or defend themselves, or assist those in need. If so, please read this in its entirety (I know that it is lengthy, but it is so important).
Our Nation and State are facing a growing population of citizens in need, specifically “at-risk” adults.
At-Risk Adults are elderly persons over the age of 65, or adults 18 or older who are mentally or physically incapacitated or have Alzheimer's disease or dementia. It is important that we pay close attention to these victims. The elder population is steadily increasing and, what the media is referring to as the “Silver Tsunami” is upon us. It is estimated that within the next 10 to 15 years over 1/5th of the US population will be 65 or older. Over recent years the number of mandated reporters of abuse, neglect and exploitation (A/N/E) has tripled in Georgia. The referrals are flowing in daily. Bad guys prey on these citizens because they are vulnerable, and have pensions, social security, and/or other retirement savings ripe for the taking.
Crimes that target these at risk victims are serious offenses and can include financial crimes (theft by taking, theft by deception, theft by conversion, Forgery, ID Fraud, etc.), property crimes (burglary, larceny), violent crimes (assault, robbery) and those crimes that occur behind closed doors (battery, simple battery, simple assault, assault, aggravated assault, or false imprisonment related spousal and family physical, verbal and emotional abuses, sexual assaults, and neglect of basic life needs such as food, hygiene, and medical care). The latter group of crimes could occur in family homes, hospitals, nursing homes, and/or personal care homes (licensed or unlicensed). Often victims are either unable to report due to isolation or physical limitations, or unwilling to report due to the fear of retaliation or simple embarrassment that they have allowed themselves to be in such a vulnerable position to begin with. Remember that while we all want to live a long time, none of us wants to be “old”.
It is important that we treat these crimes with compassion and understanding. Whenever possible call on units or professionals with specialized knowledge in these areas (CID detectives, Major Fraud detectives, SVU, Domestic Violence, State resources, and/or Homicide in a worst case scenario). Often these victims can be difficult to deal with, not out of any ill will, but simply because of confusion issues or lack of full understanding as to what has actually occurred. Do not dismiss these victims out of hand. Do not simply blow these calls off as a “civil matter”. Perpetrators of exploitation will wave a “Power of Attorney” document at you and hide behind it like a shield. All too often those documents are being abused (my detectives have become very adept at taking away their “shield” and using it against them). If you find yourself on one of these calls take it seriously. Write a report! Write a detailed report with all of the available information. If there is a “caregiver” on scene, get their personal identifiers for the report. Ask how they came to be the caregiver (i.e. family member, agency, “friend”, concerned third party). If you are in doubt write the report anyway. If a situation is reported and later turns out to be a non-criminal matter we can always unfound the report. This is a far better result than failing to report a crime that did actually occur because you just didn’t know. Supervisors, please pay attention to the reports that you are signing off on and ensure that these reports don’t fall through the cracks.
If you are making charges on a subject for committing a crime against an at-risk adult, please make sure that the charges for A/N/E are added accordingly. If you are charging one of the crimes above please add the appropriate charges as well:
Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) 16-5-102 relates to physical abuses and financial crimes against at risk victims and reads, in part;
16-5-102. Exploitation and intimidation of disabled adults, elder persons, and residents;
(a) Any person who knowingly and willfully exploits a disabled adult, elder person, or resident, willfully inflicts physical pain, physical injury, sexual abuse, mental anguish, or unreasonable confinement upon a disabled adult, elder person, or resident, or willfully deprives of essential services a disabled adult, elder person, or resident shall be guilty of a felony
O.C.G.A. 16-5-101 relates to Neglect and reads, in part:
16-5-101. Neglect to a disabled adult, elder person, or resident;
(a) A guardian or other person supervising the welfare of or having immediate charge, control, or custody of a disabled adult, elder person, or resident commits the offense of neglect to a disabled adult, elder person, or resident when the person willfully deprives a disabled adult, elder person, or resident of health care, shelter, or necessary sustenance to the extent that the health or well-being of such person is jeopardized.
Other important laws to remember are 17-3-2 which allows for a 15 year statute of limitations; 17-4-20 which allows for a warrantless arrest in cases where an officer has probable cause to believe that a crime involving physical abuse has been committed against a vulnerable adult; and 16-5-104 which establishes venue in A/N/E either where the victim resides, or where any portion of the crime occurred.
I am attaching some information that may assist you in the field with handling these calls. One is information on the Georgia Abuse Neglect & Exploitation (GANE) app, http://eyeonapp.com/other-products for smart phones and tablet devices. The GANE app offers a myriad of information to assist you in the field. It has links to the laws above, contact information for non-law enforcement agencies that offer services, cognitive assessment questions to determine victim capacity, and evaluation checklists for officers to assist in making the appropriate decisions and solid cases. Another attachment is a flyer for the 2 day “boot camp” training put on by the Department of Aging Services related to At Risk Crime Tactics. https://actschedule.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/act-flyer-1-24-17-updated.pdf. ACT is an excellent training to get more in depth information about the things that I am sharing here and to learn to recognize the red flags that you may have missed in previous calls for service. I highly recommend it for officers, investigators and supervisors, and in fact require it of all Major Fraud investigators. “