The OPPAGA Report

The OPPAGA Report (Elder Abuse)
by Joe Roubicek

Historically, in the state of Florida there have been problems with cooperation and coordination between Adult Protective Services (APS) and the law enforcement agencies when they respond to elderly complaints. APS investigates abuse, neglect and exploitation and provides social services to protect vulnerable adults from harm. The law enforcement agencies conduct the formal criminal investigation that could potentially lead to arrests of predators. When complaints were ignored or mishandled, both parties would often complain of either an improper or lack of response by the other.

As a result, Florida’s lawmakers in the 2000 legislature required APS to establish a working agreement, a written contract, for every sheriff and police chief in the state to sign, which was intended to better facilitate improved cooperation and coordination between APS and the police agencies. This contract was titled, “MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING”. This contract, contained specific criteria that would, without any doubt, greatly enhance governments overall response to crimes against the elderly throughout the state.
Here is just one line from that contract:

“The APS and undersigned law enforcement agency(ies) will develop, implement, and provide training on these joint investigative protocols…”

Any police chief or sheriff that signed the contract agreed to create in-house training and specific criteria, or “standards of operation” addressing how their officers would respond to elderly complaints of abuse, neglect and exploitation. That included cooperation and coordination with APS during investigations. It was a Godsend that fixed significant shortcomings of government agencies that are doing these investigations.

The following is a quick synopsis of what occurred as a result of the legislative actions:

In 2002, the Florida legislatures ordered the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, OPPAGA, to report on the progress of the signing of the agreement that was mandated back in 2000. OPPAGA is simply a staff unit of the legislature that examines and reports on agencies and programs to improve services. In 2003, several years after the initiative began, OPPAGA reported that only 129 of the 346 law enforcement agencies had signed the agreement. As a result, the legislature placed a deadline of March, 2004 for all law enforcement agencies to sign the agreement. Finally, by October of 2004, 342 of the 346 agencies signed this contractual agreement of interagency cooperation and OPPAGA released a report titled,
“Most Adult Protection Working Agreements Signed, But Have Had Limited Effectiveness (Report No. 04-73)”

The report begins with an introduction that states,
“Several problems relating to a lack of coordination between the program and local law enforcement continue to delay the provision of APS and/or hinder criminal investigations.”

Put simply, this means, “They signed it, but their not doing it.”

OPPAGA then recommended “…increased training, written local protocols and periodic meetings to improve the effectiveness of working agreements.”

Blunt translation, “We recommend that the agencies do what they agreed to do in the first place.”

But OPPAGA also made another interesting recommendation. They recommended that the FloridaSheriffs Association and Florida Police Chiefs Association should meet periodically to discuss and implement statewide policies regarding the protection of vulnerable adults. They said that these organizations should establish policies and goals at the state level to guide local law enforcement and APS in their establishment of protocols to protect vulnerable adults.
The director of the Florida Sheriffs Association then responded with a letter and part of it stated, “The Florida Sheriffs Association is happy to facilitate periodic meetings with the statewide stakeholders groups to determine if there are additional best practices or policies regarding the protection of vulnerable adults. As you know however, our role as an association is not to dictate or interfere with the internal policies and procedures of any local law enforcement agency or Sheriff’s Office. As clearly shown throughout the report, the relationships between… (APS)… and local law enforcement must occur at the local level…” The Police Chiefs Association response was the same.

These associations were not asked to “dictate” anything by OPPAGA. They were asked to “discuss and implement statewide policy” to guide law enforcement and APS, yet they seemed to be passing the buck back to the local agencies in their response. This legislative initiative to resolve Florida’s problem of inadequate enforcement by police and APS began in 2000 and seemed to accomplish very little over four years.

So there has historically been a problem with governments handling of elderly crimes in Florida, but is this problem specific to Florida? Note the following statement made by a man named Paul D. Hodge on the issue of the law enforcement agencies handling of crimes against the elderly, “To exacerbate the situation, the involved law enforcement agencies had…little or no meaningful communications between all the involved agencies, a distinct lack of trust and respect for professional competence, a strong reluctance to share vital intelligence and few coordinated interagency elder/patient abuse and fraud investigations and prosecutions.”

It was 1999 and Hodge was speaking in Washington before the United States Senate Hearings of the Subcommittee on Aging, as the chairperson of the National Health Care Law Enforcement Alliance…. He was talking about New York and New Jersey, not about Florida.

So it appears that the problem is a national one and yet the scope of it goes beyond that. The following is a statement taken from an article written about crime against the elderly in society.
“…compared with child or spouse abuse, abuse of the elderly tends to take longer
to surface, in part…because the government and local administrators have so far failed to
address the problem.”

Sound familiar? It’s was written about Japanese society by Shinya Ajima and published in The Japan Times, Japan, on January 6th, 2005.

And now it appears that the problem is international, I would hope that anyone reading this understands that the case files in my book are located in south Florida, but factual examples of what is happening most everywhere. These cases are simply reflective of the exploitation crimes that occur throughout the world.

The US federal government sends $153.5 million per year to states for elder abuse prevention efforts, according to the congressional research center. By comparison, $6.7 billion is spent to fight child abuse.

The important thing, I am sure, is that if people are aware of the true nature and “state of affairs” of exploitation crimes, the prevalence of the crime will be diminished substantially. It’s the ignorance or lack of understanding that fuels the prevalence.

Copyright © 2009 by Joe Roubicek