Task Forces Targeted at Improving Cases Involving Those With Special Needs
Pilot Programs in Monroe, Jefferson, Albany and Nassau Counties
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that task forces are being piloted across the state to enhance the investigation and prosecution of cases involving New York’s special needs population. The countywide task forces will address and enhance the way law enforcement, medical personnel and social services agencies respond to criminal cases involving people with disabilities and special needs who have been victimized.
“New York was the first state in the nation to establish an independent state agency dedicated to safeguarding people with special needs and disabilities, and these task forces are a crucial step in continuing that progress,” Governor Cuomo said. “This work will help to prevent further trauma to innocent victims across the state, including those with various disabilities.”
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said, “Often times crime victims are unaware of their rights and the services available to them and are, therefore, underserved. Because of New York State’s Justice Center and Office of Victim Services we have a unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these victims. I am proud to be part of our Crime Victims’ Rights Week announcement and I applaud Governor Cuomo’s commitment to protecting New York’s most vulnerable residents so they and their families get the assistance they are entitled to.”
The newly created Vulnerable Persons’ Task Forces will enhance collaboration and identify best practices and training to better serve New York’s vulnerable populations. April 19th also kicked off Crime Victims’ Rights Week in New York, and this year’s theme is Engaging Communities, Empowering Victims, which sends the message that, through partnerships we can provide support and services that will empower victims to direct their own recovery.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul today visited Monroe County, one of four counties piloting a task force. Joining her at the Monroe County Public Safety Building were representatives from the state’s Office of Victim Services and the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, as well as law enforcement officials, crime victim service providers and advocates for persons with disabilities from throughout Monroe County.
In addition to highlighting the work of the Monroe County Task Force, Lieutenant Governor Hochul unveiled a new poster to raise awareness about the assistance available from the Office of Victim Services and touted the agency’s new online claims application system. View the poster here.
Vulnerable Persons’ Task Forces also are being piloted in Albany, Jefferson and Nassau counties. Task Force members typically include, but are not limited to, representatives from The Justice Center, local law enforcement agencies, district attorneys’ offices, victim advocates, medical professionals, such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, adult protective services workers, and medical examiners/coroners.
Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, “Each year, we observe National Crime Victims’ Rights Week to promote victims’ rights and honor victims and the advocates who serve them. For 2015, we especially wanted to focus on those individuals with special needs, who can be particularly vulnerable to crime, and are proud to partner with The Justice Center to raise awareness of the issue and how New York State is working to protect those individuals and ensure services are available when they are necessary.”
Justice Center Special Prosecutor/Inspector General Patricia E. Gunning said, “Based on the multidisciplinary team model that is used to handle sensitive child abuse and sexual abuse cases, Vulnerable Persons’ Task Forces will help create an integrated and coordinated response to crimes against individuals with disabilities. All victims of a crime deserve investigations that are thorough and prosecutions that hold offenders accountable for their wrong-doing. The Vulnerable Persons' Task Forces will level the playing field for vulnerable citizens.”
Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo announced that the Office of Victim Services now accepts claims applications online, allowing the agency to better serve crime victims and their family members who are seeking compensation for medical bills, moving expenses, lost wages, and other forms of assistance. Last year, the state Office of Victim Services received more than 17,500 paper-based claims, making this online system a more efficient and streamlined way to process those requests for help.
The Bivona Child Advocacy Center, one of eight victim assistance programs in Monroe County funded by the Office of Victim Services, also participates in the Vulnerable Persons Task Force.
The Office of Victim Services (www.ovs.ny.gov) accepts three types of claims: personal injury, death, and essential personal property, which covers necessary items stolen or damaged as a result of a crime. Last year, the agency provided more than $20 million in compensation to nearly 8,300 crime victims and/or their families. That figure includes claims awarded and paid for the first time last year and claims awarded in prior years – for ongoing medical bills, as an example – that continued to be paid in 2014.
Under state and federal law, individuals eligible for assistance must be innocent victims of crime. The Office of Victim Services can reduce an award or deny a claim if it determines that a victim’s conduct contributed to their injuries. In addition, the agency is a payer of last resort, which means that all other sources of compensation must be exhausted before the agency can pay a victim or their family for out-of-pocket losses and other expenses related to the crime. For example, benefits must first be obtained from health or other insurance policies or workers’ compensation before the agency can provide assistance.
Funding for crime victims’ compensation and the cost of the agency’s day-to-day operations comes entirely from the fines, mandatory surcharges and crime victim assistance fees that certain offenders must pay following conviction in New York State or federal courts. Those fines and fees also fund nearly all of the $36.2 million provided to 228 victim assistance programs across the state.
Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said, “All innocent victims of crime deserve justice, and helping them get it takes a team effort. I am pleased to be part of the vulnerable persons’ task force being put together here in Monroe County. Forming these task forces and coordinating the efforts of different groups who previously worked separately to help vulnerable persons in the aftermath of crime will allow all of us, from victim advocates to law enforcement to prosecutors, to do our jobs better and to provide better outcomes for the people who need them most.”
Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn said, "Individuals with special needs are at times the target of criminals with nefarious intentions. Law enforcement officers must do all that they can to protect our community, giving special attention to those individuals who are part of a vulnerable population."
Bivona Child Advocacy Center Executive Director Mary Whittier said, “Bivona Child Advocacy Center is a resource to our community for all issues related to child sexual abuse and physical abuse. Together with the Justice Center, Bivona is a proud partner of the Vulnerable Person Task Force. By working together, we will help ensure the needs of vulnerable children and community members are met for the process of healing to begin. Our shared vision is a community where all children are safe and free from abuse.”
The New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs (www.justicecenter.ny.gov) serves as a law enforcement agency which seeks to ensure that individuals who receive services from a facility or provider that is operated, licensed or certified by six state agencies, are protected from abuse, neglect and mistreatment. Assessing risks to the health and safety of individuals receiving services, and supporting commensurate action to prevent potential abuse and neglect are critical components of the agency’s independent oversight role. Through its advocacy-related services, the Justice Center also provides information, technical assistance and training to support and empower individuals with disabilities of all ages, in all settings.
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