Elder-abuse reporting law goes into effect

Financial institutions must notify about suspicions

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Colorado’s first mandatory reporting bill for elder abuse took effect on July 1. The new bill requires any person who witnesses or suspects elder abuse in adults 70 or older to make a report to a local law enforcement agency.

Until now, Colorado was one of three states that did not make it a requirement for persons to report elder abuse. Since 1991, similar bills regarding mandatory reporting for elder abuse in Colorado failed seven times before the measure passed in 2013.

The Senate bill, sponsored by former Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, extends the definition of “any person” required to report abuse to include clergy and financial institutions.

“It’s only been voluntarily up to now, and especially in the financial industry it’s going to have an impact because they’ve never been mandatory reporters before,” Hudak said.

The Colorado Bankers Association, a trade group for 152 banks in the state, was part of the task force organized by Hudak to look at costs to implement the bill, which were estimated to be around $5 million.

“We have really always operated with our customers’ best interest in mind. This requirement is not off-putting or isn’t something we didn’t want to do,” said Jeff Asher, compliance officer for FirstBank. “It’s a very positive bill for the industry. Across the nation it is a fairly standard expectation.”

Other mandated reporters, such as clergy, already have experience in this area, due to the mandatory reporting bill for child abuse.

“Elder abuse is a huge, huge problem in our country,” said Scott Storey, senior chief at the First Judicial District Elder Abuse Unit in Jefferson County. “It is under-reported, under-investigated, under-prosecuted.”

During a seminar at the Jeffco DA’s office on June 25, Storey reported that elder abuse has grown 150 percent in the last 10 years, with an estimated $2.9 billion in annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse.

“I suspect it’s more than that because this crime is under-reported,” Storey said.

The Jeffco DA’s office is the only DA’s office which has an elder abuse unit. Since January of this year, law enforcement agencies have been receiving training throughout the state on how to recognize the signs of elder abuse. Through training, officers are being told to stop asking victims if they want to prosecute or if they want the suspect arrested.

Under the new bill, police shall notify a human-services agency and a district attorney’s office within 24 hours of receiving an abuse report. Officers do not need the victim to sign a complaint or sign a commitment to prosecute. Victims do not have to agree with any charges that may be filed against the person or persons who may have abused them financially or through neglect.

While reports to law enforcement cannot be made anonymously, the bill does have an immunity privilege attached for those who report possible abuse, in order to alleviate any fears of civil suits or liabilities for damage in civil action or criminal prosecutions.

Mandatory reporters, including the public, are urged to contact law enforcement if they suspect or witness elder abuse.

“You don’t have to be right,” Storey said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Although it is not the intention to focus efforts on those who fail to make a report, willfully failing to make a report could result in a class 3 misdemeanor, up to $750 in fines and up to six months in jail.