ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The St. Paul Police Department is stepping up its efforts to fight crimes against the elderly. Last fall, the department launched a new unit to investigate crimes against some of the community's most vulnerable.
KARE 11 tagged along with lead investigator Sgt. Mike Wortman as he followed up on some of these reports of elder abuse.
"You have to meet your victims. Meet them face to face," says Wortman.
His first stop is with a woman who lives in a senior high-rise complex. Wortman is looking into reports that someone is taking inappropriate photos of people who live here, including photos of her.
"I was informed of a situation here in the apartment complex," Wortman tells the woman.
The number of crimes against the elderly is growing as quickly as the elderly population itself - fraud, scams, abuse, neglect.
According to Minnesota's Vulnerable Adult Justice Program, there are more than 900,000 elders - defined as people over the age of 65 - in Minnesota.
There have been more than 99,000 reported cases of elder abuse and many more that go unreported.
"They went through a lot of things in their life and they're proud," Wortman says. "They don't want to admit that they're taken advantage of."
The police unit was created last fall. Wortman has investigated more than 300 cases, mostly crimes committed by someone the victim knows.
"We see a lot of entitlement arguments. Well she's dying anyway... I'm going to get their money eventually so I'm going to take it now," says Wortman. "I find it absolutely disgusting."
In addition to more police investigations, there are also efforts underway at the Capital to increase penalties for people who commit crimes against the elderly. A new law in Minnesota now makes it a gross misdemeanor, not just a misdemeanor, to assault someone you know or should know is a vulnerable adult.
Wortman's next stop is with an elderly woman who may have been abused in a nursing home. They are stories that are not easy to hear, but Sgt. Wortman is determined to help. He thinks about his own father, who died after a battle with dementia.
"Every time I go to a situation or a call or talk to a victim like this, I see my dad and ask 'how would my dad want to be treated' and would I want that happening to my dad," Wortman ponders. "It's huge to me."
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)