On Halloween Eve this year a 79-year-old woman was walking along Lincoln Blvd. in Santa Monica when she was beaten on her head and robbed of her purse by four suspects, one of whom was armed with a handgun. An alert witness contacted the police and, thanks to a good description, they located the stolen suspect vehicle along with the four alleged assailants who were arrested. The victim survived.
Buried near the end of the 2022 Crime in California from the state Attorney General’s office are the statistics for violent crimes committed against senior citizens.
The news is not good. In 2022, there were 16,575 senior victims of felonious violent crimes (234 of which were homicides), 348 were rapes, 4,868 were robberies, and a whopping 11,125 were aggravated assaults.
To put that number in perspective, in 2000 there were just 6,608 felonious violent crimes committed against seniors – meaning the 2022 figures represent an increase of 150.8 percent. In the same time period California’s population increased by only 14.8 percent.
None of this takes into account other forms of senior citizen abuse including, financial, psychological, or neglect and abandonment. The US Department of Justice estimates that 10 percent of seniors are subjected to some form of abuse.
Take the case of a 65-year-old San Diego woman who was contacted by online scammers posing as employees of Microsoft and Chase Bank, as reported recently in the San Diego Patch. The suspect sent her a message purporting to be from Microsoft notifying her of a data breach, convincing the victim hand over her money him for deposit into so called “safe accounts” in order to protect it. The victim gave the suspect $200,000 before he was finally arrested when he arrived at her home for a cash handover.
According to the same article, the “FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy said fraud schemes targeting the elderly are on the rise, with the highest losses and number of victims present in California.”
Despite Hollywood depictions of successful and daring bank robberies, in 2021 there were just 1,724 bank robberies and another 234 burglaries of banks nationwide.
Stealing from the elderly is a far more pervasive and lucrative business.
Not included in the state data are the misdemeanor crimes committed against seniors. Prop. 47 has reduced the theft of under $950 from an elderly person by a caregiver or non-caregiver to a misdemeanor and the fine is just $1000. Hardly a deterrent. And these are thefts presumably committed by people the victims and their families have entrusted with their loved ones’ care and their belongings.
But perhaps what seniors have been suffering from the most are robberies, which had dropped during the Covid pandemic, but increased when seniors felt safe to venture back into public. In 2020, robberies of seniors were at a four year low of 3,986 but by 2022 had risen to 4,868 – an increase of 22.1 percent.
According to the California Department of Justice, most crimes affecting senior citizens including lewd and lascivious sex crimes are actually “Wobblers” that are chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies.
According to FBI statistics as reported by the AARP, in 2022 the total loss in reported online scams was a whopping 6.9 billion dollars with senior citizens as a group suffering the highest percentage of those losses. Seniors can often be exploited as even when they suspect that they have been scammed, they are reluctant to report it out of both embarrassment and fear that if discovered they face possible conservatorship or even placement in a care facility.
Even the powerful and wealthy are not immune, as immediately prior to her death, Senator Dianne Feinstein was embroiled in a dispute with the trustees of her husband’s estate in a civil case brought by her daughter that alleged “elder abuse” of her mother by the trustees.
Nationally the picture isn’t much better. According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 2002 and 2016 643,000 seniors were treated in emergency rooms for “non-fatal assaults” and another 19,000 were murdered. A yearly average of 1,357 senior murder victims nationwide.
All of this makes our seniors perfect victims as they are unable to protect and defend themselves and certainly are not protected by California’s lax criminal codes.
Policymakers and the Attorney General should remain alert to the unique challenges facing our seniors and ensure proper funding and legislation for prevention, adult protective services investigations, criminal investigations, and the prosecution and punishment of offenders.
Steve Smith is the author of the Pacific Research Institute study “Paradise Lost: Crime in California, 2011-2021” and is a PRI senior fellow in urban studies.