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SFPD slow to keep up with skyrocketing elder abuse

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The San Francisco Police Department Special Victim’s Unit only opened 40 physical abuse cases in 2015. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)

Elder abuse in San Francisco rose by 33 percent from 2014 to 2015, but police investigations into such crimes have been in decline in recent years because of a consolidated and paired down unit tasked with looking into such matters.

This is according to a recently released report on family violence in The City, which noted the trend is part of a longer period of rising abuse, both physical and financial, of elders.

“One of the things that we know for sure is that elder abuse is on the rise here in San Francisco,” said Jill Nielsen, deputy director of the Department of Aging and Adult Services.

In the past four years, The City has seen a 70 percent increase in substantiated elder and dependent abuse, according the Adult Protective Services.

The details of elder abuse cases were presented March 22 at a hearing of the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee.

The hearing was called by Supervisor Katy Tang in order to learn about the Family Violence Council’s fifth annual report.

Abuse by The numbers

Elder abuse is defined by state law, which gives extra penalties for crimes against anyone over the age of 65 or who is a dependent adult.

In 2015, there were 1,281 confirmed cases of elder abuse, up 33 percent from the year before, according to the Human Services Agency.

Still, not all such cases are criminally investigated. But in 2015, there was a 38 percent increase over the previous year, much of that concentrated on financial abuse cases.

The San Francisco Police Department Special Victim’s Unit only opened 40 physical abuse cases in 2015, a drop from 61 the previous year. Investigations into financial abuse, however, rose by 208 percent that year even though the overall number of investigations has been in decline in recent years.

Still, there was a 25 percent decline in investigations into physical abuse.

The types of elder abuse vary from physical and psychological to financial, but often abuse cases include more than one of these types of abuse. Most are committed by family members or caregivers.

Financial abuse cases rose by 64 percent from 2012 to 2015. One national study found that elders lose more than $36 billion every year to financial abuse, wrote Nielsen in an email.

Physical and psychological abuse often impact adults with cognitive impairment as well.

“Older adults with cognitive impairment are increasingly vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation,” Nielsen said. “The rates of dementia are increasing significantly. Between 2010 and 2020, it is estimated that the number of adults in San Francisco with dementia will increase by 49 percent to almost 35,000 people.”

One reason for the decline was the 2011 department consolidation of a number of formerly independent units into one because of major staffing shortages.

Police said they have recently beefed up their elder abuse unit with financial abuse investigators, but the decline in investigations is due to a decline in reported cases.

“SVU has seen a decrease in the number of elder abuse cases reported between fiscal year 2014 and 2015,” said Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a spokesperson for the SFPD.

In fact, while there has been an overall decline in investigations into such cases from 2011, there was a 38 percent jump from 2014 to 2015. Much of this jump was due to the hiring of new investigators who focused on financial abuse cases.

But Nielsen said there are a number of other factors at play when it comes to the spike in elder abuse.

First off, the demographics: There are simply more elderly people because life spans have lengthened.

“Approximately 14 percent of San Francisco’s population is age 65 and older,” she said. “Between 2010 and 2030, the senior population in San Francisco is expected to increase by 100,00 residents.”

She added, “By 2030, adults over the age of 60 will comprise 26 percent of San Francisco population. Approximately 4 percent of San Francisco residents are adults age 18-59 that report having at least one disability.”

Second, the state changed its guidelines for what is considered elder abuse. That, in turn, has prompted a rise in substantiated cases.

Lastly, there has been a real push to educate mandated reporters on the topic, which has also lead to increased reporting on such crimes.

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