Nassau County’s top prosecutor has created a new unit focused on crimes against the elderly — an initiative aimed at seeking safety for those victims of physical abuse and the prosecution of those who exploit the vulnerable population.
District Attorney Madeline Singas said such abuse is similar to domestic violence in that it typically is an underreported crime. The recent addition to her staff of Arlene Markarian, 53, a prosecutor with a specialty in such cases, will help “reach out across many lines to make sure that we keep our elders safe,” Singas said.
From 2013 through 2015, Nassau prosecutors handled 39 physical abuse cases with victims who were 60 years of age or older, with more than half those cases involving felony charges. But Singas believes there are many more cases out there and is hoping a multidisciplinary approach to the problem can flush out more abusers.
“I’ve been in the business a long time, so I know prosecution,” Singas said in a recent interview. “And I know that it’s not easy for the elderly to . . . call 911 and report their grandson, who is stealing their money because they need to feed their heroin habit.”
Markarian’s unit won’t handle financial crimes against the elderly, but will coordinate with other Nassau prosecutors to seek justice for such victims.
A key part of the job for Markarian, who created an elder abuse unit at the Brooklyn district attorney’s office in 1999 and ran it until she became a Nassau prosecutor in November, will be to form a team that includes police, medical professionals, social workers, lawyers and advocates for the elderly.
That team will meet regularly to share information and brainstorm solutions for identifying and helping senior citizens trapped in abusive situations.
“There are complex issues that surround elder abuse and we will put in the same room the people who can forge ahead and offer solutions and find the best resolution to cases,” Singas said.
That won’t necessarily mean sending every abuser to jail.
Markarian, a Nassau native whose Elder Abuse Unit is part of the district attorney’s Special Victims Bureau, said many elderly people live with abuse because they don’t want police to arrest their children or grandchildren. She said part of the goal of her unit is to reach out to seniors — a population in Nassau of more than 200,000 — and let them know about services that can help them escape any abuse in their lives.
“That’s really what the goal is, the victim’s safety,” Markarian said. “. . . If we can hold the offender accountable, then that’s good, too.”
The common profile of an abuser is an adult child or grandchild who has a substance abuse problem or mental health struggles, or both, and is unemployed and living under an elder’s roof, according to the prosecutor.
“It’s a powder keg. And it can result in some violence in the household,” Markarian said.
While the prosecutor called elder abuse a “hidden crime,” she said it’s the kind of “across the board” offense that impacts seniors of all incomes, races and religions behind closed doors.
Elder law expert Jane Reinhardt, a senior staff attorney for the Senior Citizens Law Project at Nassau/Suffolk Law Services, said she believes the initiative will be a positive addition to resources available for elderly residents.
The legal services corporation represents seniors who can’t afford to pay for legal services related to civil issues and does come upon situations involving financial abuse, she said. The attorney said her agency could connect a client with law enforcement officials if a person sought that kind of help.
Such coordination between agencies is a key element of the district attorney’s vision for developing her office’s new unit, which now has an elder abuse hotline in operation.
“Right now, for us, it was important to let the elderly population in Nassau County know that we’re here for them,” Singas said.