Pierce County is boosting efforts to prosecute crimes against the elderly with the expansion of a special Elder Fraud and Abuse team in the county prosecutor’s office.
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said his office will receive an additional $200,000 in the 2014 county budget to focus on crimes involving both financial fraud and physical abuse against older people.
“We were finding an overlap between financial fraud and physical abuse cases,” Lindquist said.
He said special efforts to combat those kinds of crimes began in 2011 with the assignment of a deputy prosecutor to elder fraud cases. That year, there were 18 cases handled. In 2012, the number was 38.
By the end of 2013, Lindquist said, the caseload had grown to 50, much of it involving financial fraud but also some cases involving physical abuse of older people.
This month, the team will add a second deputy prosecutor and a legal assistant — important resources, as Lindquist says he expects the caseload to continue growing.
He said his office has seen more of these cases not necessarily because more crimes are being committed but because more are being reported and referred to the prosecutor’s office.
“Thanks to a public awareness campaign by Crime Stoppers and our office, referrals are up,” he said. “People are reporting it.”
Experts in the field of crimes against the elderly make a comparison to domestic violence and child abuse — two offenses that were once considered private family business and often were not reported until laws were changed and public information campaigns launched.
Nationally, 9.5 percent of elderly people endured some kind of mistreatment in 2010, according to the most recent data available from the National Center on Elder Abuse. The median age of victims was 77.9, and the majority of them (67.3 percent) were women.
Far and away, the leading kind of mistreatment was neglect (58.5 percent), followed by physical abuse (15.7 percent) and financial exploitation (12.3 percent), according to the national center’s statistics.
Lindquist said crimes against older people have always been prosecuted, but Pierce County’s expanded team is trying to bring a more vigorous and specialized approach because of the unique needs of the victims.
In some cases, it’s difficult to get victims into court. Lindquist said that while it’s not common, his office has employed recorded depositions in cases where people could not testify in person.
“These are particularly challenging cases,” he said. “Offenders target vulnerable victims. Some elders have memory issues. Some are ashamed to admit they have been scammed.”
“We are just getting started at this point,” he said.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635