Family crimes against the elderly and the criminal justice system: A study of elder abuse and the New York City Police Department

Patricia Jane Brownell, Fordham University


The purpose of the study was to examine law enforcement's potential for case finding and detection of family crimes against the elderly by offspring. Descriptive data were captured through a survey of 295 police complaint reports and utilized to build a predictor profile of victims' stated willingness to prosecute their offspring abusers at initial point of contact with police. The study population consisted of Manhattan residents aged 60 years or older against whom an alleged crime by an offspring was reported in 1992. Of the 295 complaint reports representing elder abuse--defined as physical, financial, or emotional abuse that could be categorized as a misdemeanor or felony level offence--238 included information on victims' willingness to prosecute the abuser and were used to develop the predictor profile or model. The predictor model that evolved from the study included intensity of abuse, race/ethnicity, and gender of abuser. High intensity abuse was the single most powerful predictor of victims' willingness to prosecute. For victims of low intensity abuse, black ethnicity and male perpetrator (son) were also predictors of victims' stated willingness to prosecute. The demographic profile of victims in the study did not differ significantly on selected variables from people aged 60 and older in New York City with two exceptions. They were disproportionately people of color (Black) and they fell disproportionately into the "young-old" category (60-74 years). Abusers were overwhelmingly male (sons). The study concluded that law enforcement agencies are a significant source of information about elder abuse. Police can be valuable for front-line detection and case finding for elder abuse, and the community policing program provides an opportunity for expanding and reinforcing elder abuse detection and intervention. Social work professionals have skills that make them more suitable than police for undertaking assessments and ongoing interventions with elderly victims and their families. As a result collaborative projects should be developed (or expanded) between police and social workers. The social work profession should consider forensic social work as an emergent field of practice. Curricula should include coursework on domestic violence that addresses the impact of cultural diversity on elder abuse.

Subject Area

Social work|Gerontology|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Brownell, Patricia Jane, "Family crimes against the elderly and the criminal justice system: A study of elder abuse and the New York City Police Department" (1994). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9529887.