Mich. task force rolls out new elder abuse reporting form

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The state’s Elder Abuse Task Force unveiled a uniform investigative and reporting model for Michigan law enforcement to use when investigating suspected mistreatment of older residents.

The form will be rolled out to police departments via state law enforcement associations along with a list of best practices for elder abuse investigations and, later, videos to assist in training on those best practices.

“People are not getting caught and this is one of the reasons,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said at a press conference announcing the initiative Tuesday as part of the ongoing work of the Elder Abuse Task Force established this year.

Nessel said the form will bring some clarity to what can be a complicated investigation as officers look for signs of physical abuse or neglect as well as financial evidence from banks, legal documents and purchases.

“People will know now that law enforcement is really paying attention to crimes that earlier, it wasn’t that they didn’t care about, it was that they needed assistance in identifying these crimes,” Nessel said. “Now people know that they’re watching these types of offenses.”

Because the state does not have a specific elder abuse statute, many elder abuse cases are investigated using a standard police report form seeking to establish whether the suspected crime could fall under the vulnerable adult statute, said Assistant Attorney General Scott Teter, division chief for the department’s Financial Crimes Unit.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Teter

“It’s a very complex crime,” Teter said. “There’s not a lot of teaching in the police academy on it.”

The initiative helps to establish best practices across the state for the investigation and prosecution of elder abuse, said Michigan State Police Director Joe Gasper. It is similar to a standardized form created in 1994 to help law enforcement investigating domestic violence cases.

“The form aids in identifying not only physical abuse but financial abuse,” Gasper said. “This will be a good foundation for all law enforcement to follow.”

The document unveiled Tuesday would prompt officers to identify items that may qualify a person as a vulnerable adult, such as whether they need help walking, cooking, bathing, driving or taking medication.

Officers are provided a checklist on the form for potential signs of physical risks such as bodily injury, dehydration, filthy or soiled conditions, foul smells, malnutrition or inconsistent explanations of the individual’s care.

The form also requires officers to discern whether a person is at risk of financial harm through a “parasitic” caregiver, poor care, the person controlling the victim’s bank account or through legal provisions that remove an individual’s decision-making capacity, such as guardianships, conservatorships, or power of attorney.

Among the evidence collected in a financial harm investigation would be copies of all legal documents, financial statements, vehicle titles and photographs of living conditions.

“There are things that we need to be able to prove in a courtroom that don’t necessarily come to the forefront when police are looking at these cases,” said Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting.