A bill to create two elder justice centers to help protect members of the state’s aging population was introduced today in the Senate by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane.

“Addressing the needs of our state’s seniors must be a priority,” said Cleveland. “This community based approach has been incredibly successful with vulnerable children and I am pleased that we will have two pilot programs to bring these additional resources to our seniors. We all know someone or have heard a story about financial fraud and exploitation of elderly or vulnerable adults and every one of us has the potential of one day being a victim. This bill will strengthen current efforts and put all the right people in one place to help keep our seniors safe.”

Senate Bill 5788 would model the elder justice centers after similar children’s advocacy centers and will bring adult protective services, law enforcement officers, prosecuting attorneys, victim’s advocates and program coordinators together to aid seniors and help protect them from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. This type of enhanced collaboration and coordination will more efficiently aid victims.

One in 10 seniors have suffered from some form of abuse or neglect at least once. Since 2008, the number of reports to adult protective services in Washington state has risen by 25 percent and the number of investigated cases has increased by 30 percent.

“We have more and more elderly people living in our community, and we need to ensure that our efforts to protect them keep up with the need,” said Billig. “Too many elderly people are being neglected, abused or taken advantage of, often with increasingly complex and targeted crimes, and our response should include a justice system capable of providing the specialized support and protection that our elders need and deserve. As this project moves forward, it will help us respond to the abuse or exploitation of vulnerable adults. Our elders raised us and in turn, they deserve our protection now.”

The elder justice centers will begin at two demonstration sites in Clark County and Spokane County. The centers will develop a written protocol to address the coordination of investigations between the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement, adult protective services, local advocacy groups and any other local agency involved in the criminal investigation of vulnerable adults facing abandonment, abuse, neglect and financial fraud.

By January of 2018, each site must submit a final report to the Legislature detailing the effectiveness of the elder justice center models and must contain recommendations for modifying or expanding elder justice centers across the state.