“I’ve learned over the years that nothing beats collaboration,” District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said as he opened, “From Crime Scene to Sentencing, and Beyond: Addressing Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities and Elders,” a day-long training he sponsored in conjunction with the Building Partnerships for the Protection of Persons with Disabilities Initiative (BPI) on November 29 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Danvers. Collaboration was in evidence throughout the day as over 400 police, prosecutors, victim advocates, persons with disabilities and elder services providers participated in workshops and plenary sessions designed to inspire and inform the people who are on the front lines of protecting persons with disabilities and elders.
“There is no greater responsibility that we share than the protection of the most vulnerable among us,” said DA Blodgett. “Persons with disabilities and elders are among those we should work the hardest and with the greatest passion to protect.”
The opening keynote speaker, Sheila Radziewicz, explained that persons with disabilities and elders are victimized at significantly higher rates than the general population. Most of the time, the fact that they have a disability is the reason they are victimized. These crimes are highly under-reported because often, a personal caregiver is the perpetrator, making it nearly impossible for the victim to report the person they rely on for their care. Other factors play a role including the fact that a person’s particular disability may be their inability to communicate traditionally, again making it nearly impossible to file a police report.
The high rate of crimes against persons with disabilities and elders combined with the low reports, caused the creation of the BPI in the late 1990s. The Partnership helped establish a more collaborative approach to recognizing signs of abuse, timely reporting of abuse and conducting joint investigations. Overall, this has led to a dramatic increase in reporting and prosecution of crimes against persons with disabilities and elders. According to Elin Howe, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, in Fiscal Year 1998, there were 32 serious allegations of abuse and not one resulted in a prosecution. In Fiscal Year 2012, 1,243 allegations of serious abuse were reported with more than 150 resulting in prosecutions. This increased access to the criminal justice system for persons with disabilities and elders is the direct result of the collaborative approach fostered by the BPI. Perhaps as important is that limited resources are no longer wasted on duplicative investigations and victims are no longer subjected to repetitive interviews.
Fourteen people were recognized for their commitment and dedication to protecting, advocating for, providing services to and pursuing justice for persons with disabilities and elders. They were Jeremy Barron, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission; Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, Legal Counsel to the Western District Attorney; Renee Gauthier, Elder Protective Services, SeniorCare, Gloucester; Tara Hastie, Department of Mental Health; Gregory Matthews, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General Medicare Fraud Division; Emeka Kenneath Okoro, Disabled Persons Protection Commission; Marian Ryan, General Counsel, Middlesex District Attorney’s Office; Gerald St. John, Department of Developmental Services; Mary Walz-Watson, Western Massachusetts Coordinator, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner; Lisa Washington-Brown, State Police Detective, Disabled Persons Protection Unit; Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis; Kate MacDougall, Chief of Family Crimes and Sexual Assault Unit, Essex District Attorney’s Office; Cheryl Watson, Chief of Victim Witness Services, Essex District Attorney’s Office. Retiring Peabody Police Chief Robert Champagne received a lifetime achievement award.