Prosecutor unveils elder abuse justice center

Office will consolidate resources to pursue financial exploitation, neglect cases

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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To combat financial exploitation and neglect of vulnerable adults, the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office has opened an elder abuse justice center.

Prosecutor Tony Golik and his staff hosted an open house Tuesday afternoon at the new center in the basement of the prosecutor’s office at 1013 Franklin St. in downtown Vancouver.

Several county leaders, including Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt and state Rep. Sharon Wylie, were on hand for tours of the center, which will be staffed with a deputy prosecutor, two detectives and a part-time coordinator. There are about 40 deputy prosecutors in Golik’s office.

Planning for the center, which was a goal in Golik’s campaign for prosecutor last fall, has been in the works for a year.

Elder abuse cases typically have been treated as general felonies or like other theft or abuse cases. Having a specialty center for these types of crimes will streamline the process of investigating and prosecuting them by having all the players under one roof, Golik said.

The setup of the center is modeled after existing specialty centers, such as the Children’s Justice Center and the Domestic Violence Prosecution Center.

In addition to detectives and a prosecutor, three Department of Social and Health Services’ adult protection services workers will work out of the center.

“They are important cases that haven’t been given the attention they should have been given,” the prosecutor said. “It’s exciting now to see it in place.”

‘Dirty hidden secret’

According to the adult protection services, there were 880 cases of elder abuse in 2009 (the most recent statistics) and a large majority of those were not reported. Currently, there are 113 pending elder abuse cases at the prosecutor’s office, program coordinator Dianna Kretzschmar said.

Similar to how child abuse was rampant and underreported in the 1980s, elder abuse has fallen beneath the radar, she said. The opening of the center can buck that trend.

“It’s another dirty hidden secret just like child abuse was,” Kretzschmar said. “This isn’t a new model. This is the same proven model” as the children’s justice and domestic violence centers.

Asked whether he worries over how state budget cuts will factor into local specialty programs, Golik said the center did not require any additional funding, save for the money to pay for a part-time coordinator. The other staff members are current county or city employees who were reassigned to the center.

The coordinator’s salary, covered for the next year and a half, will come from leftover money of a reserve fund generally used for the transportation of witnesses and other trial costs that have collected over time, Golik said.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.