A one-stop shop for investigating elder abuse
As America’s senior population grows, police must adjust to better serve their needs
This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning and action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.
The article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it – creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.
- The "baby boom" generation is now reaching its golden years, with projections suggesting 20% of the U.S. population will be aged 65 or older by 2029. This demographic shift presents significant challenges for law enforcement and community services.
- This article highlights the sharp rise in the elderly population and associated crimes, particularly elder abuse. In Shasta County, California, the number of elder abuse referrals has increased over the last three years, including physical care, health and safety, and financial exploitation.
- Financial exploitation of the elderly is a significant concern, with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reporting total losses of $3.1 billion in such crimes.
- Police leaders need to prioritize funding and resources for elder abuse investigations, including specialized training.
- Creating a "one-stop-shop" for elderly crime victims is proposed as an approach to better service. This location would provide investigative resources, victim advocates and other services, facilitating communication and a robust multidisciplinary response for each victim.
By Lieutenant Levi Solada
One major issue law enforcement will face in coming years is the increasing number of elderly in our communities. The “baby boom” generation, which lasted from World War II until 1964, produced millions of Americans who are now reaching their golden years.
According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), “Projections of the entire older population (which includes the pre-baby-boom cohorts born before 1946) suggest 71.4 million people will be age 65 or older in 2029. This means the elderly … will make up about 20% of the U.S. population by 2029, up from almost 14% in 2012.”  These projections create major issues for policing and planning for services to this population. How should we prepare to adequately serve one of our most vulnerable growing populations in the best way possible?
Issues and demographics
First, we need to understand the demographics of the communities we serve. Once we understand how our communities are shaped, we need to identify the crime trends that affect the elderly. Additionally, we need to analyze how we offer police services to the elderly today to adjust how we may handle those services in the future.
For example, in the 2000 census Shasta County, California had 163,256, residents with 15.2% (24,814) older than 65.  This number has been on the rise; according to the latest census data, there are now 182,139 residents of Shasta County. Approximately 21% (36,428) are over 65 years old – an increase of almost 50% in 20 years.  This sharp rise in the elderly population for Shasta County has been the trend across most of the country. Figure 1 shows the growth of the elderly population from 2010 to 2019. Populations are aging more quickly in the 11 Western states and along the Eastern seaboard.
As populations increase, so do the crimes associated with any age cohort. The total number of elder abuse referrals for Shasta County has increased over the last three years, from 2,299 in 2019 to 2,527 in 2021.  These numbers are alarming, but it’s important to note not all elder abuse referrals are criminal in nature. Trend reports from Shasta County Adult Protective Services identify the top three referral categories over the last three years as physical care, health and safety, and financial exploitation. Nonetheless, these referrals require initial investigation by the police to prioritize and categorize the suspected abuse, as well as connect persons to other aspects of county services.
Additional factors to consider include the different types of elder abuse crimes, how these crimes are investigated, and how many resources are needed for a full investigation and prosecution. Common examples of elder abuse crimes in California are abandonment, financial exploitation, isolation, malnutrition, neglect, physical abuse, mental abuse and sexual abuse. Some of these crimes may take far longer to investigate than others. Some require the use of experts. Financial exploitation is one example where an expert would be useful.
The costs of crime
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) compiles nationwide data on the financial exploitation of elders. According to IC3, technology and customer support schemes continue to be the most common types of fraud reported. The IC3 report highlights the following nationwide statistics for these two types of crime: 
- Victims over 60: 88,262
- Total losses: $3.1 billion
- Increase in losses from 2021: 84%
- Average dollar loss per victim: $35,101
- Victims losing more than $100,000: 5,456
Investigating financial crimes is time-consuming, and time works against law enforcement during elder abuse investigations. Depending on individual case dynamics and time to investigate and prosecute, the elderly victim may die before their case ever gets to a courtroom. This is a real consideration for elder abuse investigations. It may become harder to prove a case once the victim has passed.
Depending on your makeup, additional resources may help better serve your elderly population. Many agencies across California have limited numbers of personnel to devote to elder abuse investigations. The rise of elder abuse crimes, based on our increasing senior population, needs to be addressed. In California, elder abuse tops burglary and auto theft in frequency; an elder is abused at a rate of more than one every two minutes.  Some police agencies are financially more stable than others, and this will have a direct impact on the number of resources they may allocate to investigate elder abuse crimes. Even if yours is not in that category, you’re still obliged to competently investigate. That also involves educating potential victims to mitigate the occurrences of abuse.
How can we spread the word and educate the elderly populations in our communities? Police will need to consider how effectively they communicate. Businesses and organizations that provide services to the elderly may be enlisted to help inform their clients about crime trends and how to protect themselves. The crime prevention aspect is critical to educate the elderly (and those who provide services to them) about the advances in technology and the techniques criminals are using.
The dynamics of investigating these crimes can prove challenging. Depending on the victim’s physical or mental state, obtaining a victim statement can be difficult, but it is important for the successful prosecution of their case. Specialized training in elder abuse investigations should be prioritized, along with collecting and analyzing digital evidence that may be available in their cases. There are also other steps to consider to better serve this growing segment of our population.
How do we address the issues? Police leaders need to look to the horizon and prioritize funding and devote additional resources to elder abuse investigations. As the number of elderly people continues to grow, we need to have a plan in place. Creating multidisciplinary responses may prove to be a viable approach.
California mandates such approaches from county adult protective services (APS). What is lacking in Shasta County is coordination between local law enforcement and APS. A focused multidisciplinary approach on the criminal side of elder abuse investigations would better serve the community. Gail Gustafson, who supervises Shasta County’s APS social workers, explained the current multidisciplinary team approach focuses heavily on the social side of elder abuse issues. According to Gustafson, “There is currently a need for collaboration between local law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and APS regarding criminal investigations of elder abuse.”  Often, though, APS is left out of the criminal investigation process and not always updated as cases progress through the court system.
A one-stop shop for the elderly is one possible scenario police agencies could utilize to stretch the limited resources to devote to these crimes. A single location that provides investigative resources, access to victim advocates and other wrap-around services could represent a far better approach. Imagine having a centralized location where social workers, law enforcement, victim assistance personnel and prosecutors could work in the same building to facilitate communication and a robust multidisciplinary response for each victim who comes through the doors.
Children’s advocacy centers already provide an effective model for this. These are community-based, child-friendly and trauma-informed organizations that coordinate a multidisciplinary response to child maltreatment allegations. Children’s advocacy centers deliver a best practice model that brings together CPS investigators and social workers, law enforcement, forensic interviewers, prosecutors, family advocates and medical and mental health professionals to provide a coordinated, comprehensive response to victims and their caregivers.  Our elderly deserve a model that provides similar levels of collaboration. It is imperative for police agencies to identify those resources within their communities and bring them together to collaborate.
Imagine how this could improve service to the elderly crime victim. Centers would have trained staff who could conduct forensic-style interviews with victims, observed by members of the multidisciplinary team. Depending on the type of investigation, each team member could decide what options they could offer to best serve the victim. Team members would have direct communications with the forensic interviewer to have their questions answered. This would reduce the number of interviews the elderly victim must complete. Specialized resources may be offered as needed, such as medical exams, financial assistance, housing options, assisted living, criminal protective orders, civil advice and crime prevention assistance. This type of approach would bridge the current gap between the social and criminal sides of elder abuse investigations.
Collaboration is key. Moving forward, law enforcement leaders need to identify and collaborate with agencies that support the elderly and create a space for elderly crime victims to be served appropriately, effectively and expediently. Our rapidly growing elderly population has some of the most vulnerable residents in our communities. It is our responsibility to prepare to serve and support them. We owe them thorough investigations that identify suspects and bring them to justice, all while offering victim services so they may recover to the best of their ability and live their remaining lives in peace.
Evil will continue to prey on the most vulnerable people in our society. In the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “To ignore evil is to be an accomplice to evil.”  It is our responsibility to protect and serve, especially those who are most vulnerable.
Topics for discussion
1. Given the increasing elderly population and associated crimes, what steps are being taken to prioritize funding and resources for elder abuse investigations within your department?
2. How is your department enhancing collaboration with Adult Protective Services (APS) and other agencies to ensure a multidisciplinary response to elder abuse cases?
3. In light of the suggested "one-stop-shop" approach for elderly crime victims, what are your department's plans or initiatives to consolidate investigative resources, victim advocates and other services for this demographic?
1. Pollard K, Scommegna P. (April 2014.) Just how many baby boomers are there? PRB.
2. Shasta County, California. Familypedia.
3. United States Census Bureau. (August 2021.) 2020 Population and Housing State Data.
4. Gustafson G. (Dec 2022.) Shasta County Elder Abuse Statistics.
5. Internet Crime Complaint Center. Federal Bureau of Investigation Elder Fraud Report 2022.
6. Karr H. (May 2010.) Elder abuse — a silent crime. California Bar Journal.
7. Gustafson G. Personal correspondence.
8. Children’s Advocacy Centers. Child Welfare Information Gateway.
About the author
Levi Solada is currently a lieutenant with the Redding Police Department in California. He has over 20 years of experience in law enforcement. During his career, he served as a patrol officer, investigator, corporal and sergeant before being promoted to lieutenant in 2019. He has supervised the Investigations Division and is currently a watch commander in the Patrol Division. He is program manager for the field training program, hostage negotiations team and bomb squad and is currently the SWAT tactical commander.
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