Attorney General Bonta: Law Enforcement Agencies Must Better Protect Seniors and Persons with Disabilities

Thursday, September 7, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a bulletin to California local law enforcement agencies reminding them of their obligations under state law to enact policies and procedures to help improve reporting, enforcement, and education regarding crimes against seniors and persons with disabilities. Although seniors and persons with disabilities are more likely to be victims of serious crimes, these crimes have been historically underreported. To better address this challenge, in 2019, California enacted Senate Bill 338, The Senior and Disability Justice Act (SB 338) to encourage local law enforcement agencies to adopt comprehensive policies to improve reporting and investigations of disability and elder abuse. Attorney General Bonta’s advisory reminds these agencies of the requirements under SB 338 and urges each of them to reach compliance as soon as possible to protect the safety of seniors and persons with disabilities statewide.

“Law enforcement has a legal and moral obligation to do all they can to ensure that the rights of seniors and people with disabilities are protected,” said Attorney General Bonta. “When crimes go unreported or are improperly documented, these crimes and their victims remain in the dark. We must provide these victims with the accountability and the justice that they are entitled to. I urge all agencies to review their policies to ensure they are consistent with SB 338 and recognize seniors’ and people with disabilities’ equal protections under the law.”

People with disabilities, including disabilities caused by advanced age, are more likely to be victims of serious crimes, such as abuse, sexual assault, hate crimes, domestic violence, and human trafficking. Nationally, people with disabilities are at least 3.4 times more likely to be victimized by violent crimes than people without disabilities. People with cognitive disabilities — including intellectual disabilities and dementia— are even more likely to be victims of violent crime, at 5.5 times the rate of people without disabilities. This is especially concerning in California, where the number of seniors and people with disabilities are rapidly increasing.

In 2019, California enacted SB 338 to draw attention to the wide extent of crimes against seniors and people with disabilities; reinforce that these acts are crimes, not merely civil matters; and strongly encourage every local law enforcement agency to adopt a comprehensive policy concerning these crimes, including effective, accountable, and locally developed protocols for carrying out the agency’s existing responsibilities.

Despite their prevalence, crimes against seniors and persons with disabilities continue to be underreported. For example, while 40,000 anti-disability hate crimes were estimated to have occurred nationally in 2017, California law enforcement agencies reported just four such incidents in 2017 and seven incidents in 2018. Moreover, even when senior and disability victimization is reported, the response by law enforcement may be inadequate. For example, one survey of crime victims with disabilities found that perpetrators were arrested just less than 10% of the time. The majority of victims— nearly 53%—reported that nothing happened after they reported abuse to the authorities.

The bulletin, issued by the California Department of Justice’s Division of Law Enforcement outlines that municipal police or county sheriffs’ departments that adopt or revise a policy regarding elder and dependent adult abuse or senior and disability victimization on or after April 13, 2021, must include the 28 items stated in Penal Code section 368.6, subdivision (c). The items provide clear definitions and information on the wide prevalence of crimes against seniors and people with disabilities. The legislation also requires including provisions related to extensive training on senior and disability victimization, a requirement that officers investigate every report of senior and disability victimization, detailed protocols for handling these crimes, and provisions regarding outreach to the senior and disability communities to encourage reporting and prevention of these crimes.

The bulletin may be viewed here.

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