Red tape stands in way of police volunteers

There are financial experts waiting to donate their time to help San Francisco police crack down on elder fraud, but they have been held up by bureaucracy.
New police Chief George Gascón is pushing for creative ideas as the Police Department deals with budget cuts, and one of those ideas could be to let civilian investigators assist in solving crimes instead of always using additional police officers. Several studies on the department have recommended civilianizing positions, such as clerks and statisticians, to allow higher-paid officers to fight crime, but that process has lagged.
Erika Falk, executive director of the San Francisco Institute on Aging, told the Police Commission on Wednesday night about financial crimes committed against older adults that are often overlooked. She also lobbied the Police Department to invest more resources toward solving the problem.
One inspector works on elder-abuse cases that involve physical abuse and another is dedicated to dealing with financial crimes against elders. In 2009, there were 80 reported cases of physical abuse.
In the Economics Crime Unit, which handles fraud cases, there are a total of eight inspectors. Those inspectors received more than 3,500 reports of fraud in 2009. About 10 percent of those dealt with older victims.
Police Commission member Yyvonne Lee suggested putting together a specialized unit that would take on crimes that target elders.
“I’m still puzzled why we don’t have a dedicated unit to deal with elder abuse as a whole,” Lee said.
Staffing is the issue, according to Gascón. It costs about $200,000 a year to pay a full-time officer wages, benefits and pension.
So, when Falk told him there was a wealth manager, a certified accountant and a postgraduate student willing to sift through financial records to help police solve crimes without being paid, Gascón took notice.
Falk helped recruit the volunteers through the Elder Abuse Forensics Center, a nonprofit that works with police, the District Attorney’s Office and Adult Protective Services. The volunteers were approved to help as long as they passed a police background check, which takes a matter of weeks. That was months ago.
“We’ve had several elders die before their cases are even assigned, and they’re losing a lot of money,” Falk said.
On Thursday, a police spokesman said the chief is already looking into the background check process.
“If there’s a problem there, we’d like to rectify it,” Sgt. Wilfred Williams said.

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