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Back to Archives | Back to January 2005 Contents 

Massachusetts State Police Adopt Statewide Approach to Crimes against Persons with Disabilities

Every day, in cities worldwide, law enforcement agencies pioneer innovative approaches to solving community and statewide policing challenges with one goal in mind-to ensure the safety and well being of the citizens they serve. For each of the last 12 years, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Motorola Inc. have recognized the industry's best with the prestigious Webber Seavey Award for Quality in Law Enforcement.

This year, three agencies in the United States received law enforcement's top honor: the Massachusetts State Police, the California Highway Patrol, and the Port Saint Lucie, Florida, Police Department. All three were recognized in special ceremonies held in conjunction with the annual IACP conference in Los Angeles this past November.

"Law enforcement agencies worldwide face compelling public safety challenges," said then-IACP President Joseph Polisar, chief of the Garden Grove California, Police Department. "The need to work collaboratively and share best practices has never been more important than it is today. The 2004 IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award winners, finalists, and semifinalists exemplify a dedication to making a difference in the communities they serve and IACP and Motorola are proud to recognize their outstanding accomplishments."

In the first installment of a three-part series on the 2004 Webber Seavey Award winners, the Police Chief will highlight the efforts of the Massachusetts State Police on behalf of the disabled.

he Massachusetts State Police and its partners launched the Building Partnerships for the Protection of Persons with Disabilities initiative to better link law enforcement and human services organizations to address crimes committed against the disabled. The partners include the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC), the Department of Mental Retardation, the Department of Mental Health, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, and the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance.

The Building Partnerships initiative was institutionalized throughout the state with formal memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with each district attorney, the Massachusetts State Police, and human services providers.

"The IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award continues to represent the best in class in community policing and we are thrilled to be named among this year's winners," said Colonel Tom Robbins, superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police. "I am extremely proud of the men and women of this department for their extraordinary efforts in protecting people with disabilities in the state and for helping to pioneer the Building Partnerships program."

Lack of Awareness, Investigation
Prior to the Building Partnerships program's inception, crimes committed against the disabled in the state of Massachusetts went largely unrecognized or underreported to appropriate authorities. Some reported cases were inadequately investigated or suffered long delays before even making it to the district attorney's desk. Key reasons for this included a general lack of awareness among officers, lack of effective coordination between law enforcement and human service agencies, and reluctance on the part of police, prosecutors, and judges to rely on the testimony of a person with a disability.

"Many persons with disabilities lack the capacity to report a potential crime they may have suffered," said Nancy Alterio, executive director of the DPPC. "And since many crimes are committed by caregivers themselves, peers often won't come forward for fear of retaliation or simply aren't properly educated to identify potential abuses. Through this innovative statewide program, we now have the ability to quickly evaluate potential criminal allegations and forward cases directly to the proper district attorney's office for review and investigation."

An Improved Process
The DPPC was established in 1987 as an independent statewide agency responsible for the investigation and remediation of instances of abuse against persons with disabilities. Through the Building Partnerships Program, the DPPC received more than 6,500 reports of abuse to its 24-hour statewide hotline in 2003. The number of criminal complaints reported to the DPPC and investigated by law enforcement jumped from 32 cases in 1997 to 645 in 2003.

"The statistics certainly speak to the integrity and impact of this program," said Alterio. "We are all working more effectively in protecting the state's disabled and ensuring abusers no longer get away with their crimes."

A key component of the Building Partnerships initiative is the State Police Detective Unit (SPDU), which is housed in the DPPC; other specialized units are assigned to each of the state's 11 district attorneys' offices. The troopers of the SPDU review all abuse reports received through the civil agency's 24-hour hotline and track each one using a statewide database. The new infrastructure allows for the timely and efficient processing of all cases and has significantly enhanced the safety and protection of crime victims.

In addition to creating a more effective infrastructure for managing abuse complaints, comprehensive training was provided to local and state police officers, civil investigators, assistant district attorneys, victim witness advocates, service providers, and media representatives.

Meaningful Milestones
"The success of the Building Partnerships program has been compelling and truly reflects what can be achieved through cooperation and alignment toward a common goal," said Robbins.

Following are key highlights of program milestones achieved to date:

January 1998: A Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit is established in the DPPC. All cases involving criminal activity are tracked statewide through an electronic database. More than 500 pieces of information related to each report are maintained.

September 1998: The secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services endorses Department of Mental Retardation Investigations Advisory Panel's report and expands the recommendations to include all agencies that work with adults with disabilities in the state.

May 1999: The Massachusetts State Police, assistant district attorneys, victim witness advocates, the DPPC, and human service agencies come together for the first time for a two-day statewide conference to address crimes against adults with disabilities. Memorandums of understanding are drafted for each district attorney's jurisdiction; these MOUs identify agency contacts, types of cases, and deadlines for reporting abuse allegations.

September 1999: The State Police Detective Unit assigned to the DPPC begins to track criminal activity involving adults with disabilities statewide.

January 2000: The Building Partnerships steering committee is formed with leadership from the Massachusetts State Police, the DPPC, and the attorney for the Northwestern District.
March 2000: The Building Partnerships initiative receives an Executive Office of Public Safety Byrne Grant written by the Massachusetts State Police, the DPPC, and attorney for the Northwestern District. The grant is housed at the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and a project director is hired.

September 1999-May 2000: All 11 district attorneys, the Massachusetts State Police, adult protective services, and human services agencies formally sign an MOU specific to each district attorney's jurisdiction.

December 1999-April 2003: The first level of training is conducted for state and local police officers and civil investigators in each of 11 district attorney's jurisdictions. Key topics include the role of human services agencies, MOUs, crime scene preservation, interviewing crime victims with disabilities, and criminal and civil statutes as they apply to persons with disabilities.

March 2000-March 2003: More than 1,500 representatives of service provider organizations statewide receive comprehensive training on all aspects of protecting persons with disabilities.
October 2001-Present: The Massachusetts State Police provides a 40-hour sexual assault investigator certification course and a 40-hour basic investigation course to civil investigators from the DPPC, the DMR, the DMH, and the MRC.

March 2002: The Massachusetts State Police, the Building Partnerships steering committee, and the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education develop a guide for court personnel. The guide has been distributed to all courthouses in the state.

May 2002: A comprehensive distance learning training curriculum, "Crimes against the Disabled," is developed and is being used as an elective course through the online academy at the Massachusetts State Police.

October 2002: Forensic interviewing training program is launched statewide for law enforcement officers, forensic interviewers, civil investigators, assistant district attorneys, victim witness advocates, risk managers, and human rights officers.

"The Building Partnerships for the Protection of Persons with Disabilities initiative has clearly changed the way crimes against the disabled are addressed within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," said Robbins. "It has afforded persons with disabilities the same protections and rights as the public at large by ensuring that suspected criminal activity is investigated immediately by law enforcement."

The Webber Seavey Distinction
The IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award is presented annually to agencies and departments worldwide for promoting a standard of excellence that epitomizes law enforcement's contribution and dedication to the quality of life in local communities. In 2004, from among a field of more than 179 nominees-almost 20 percent coming from countries other than the United States, such as India, Brazil, and Ireland-three departments were selected to receive law enforcement's most distinguished honor, and 22 other departments were recognized as finalists and semifinalists.

"For the last 12 years, the IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award has honored the critical role first responders play in each of our lives," said Jim Sarallo, Motorola vice president and general manager, North America. "On behalf of Motorola, I'd like to thank all this year's winners for the commitment, creativity, courage, and leadership they bring to their jobs every day."

All nominated Webber Seavey law enforcement programs were evaluated by a distinguished panel of judges against five criteria:

  • Their impact on improving services available in the community

  • How they strengthened police relations with the communities they served and whether the programs promoted greater community participation in local law enforcement activities

  • How effectively available resources were used

  • Whether the programs enhanced communications within, and cooperation among, local law enforcement agencies

  • The creativity of the approaches developed and whether they raised the quality and effectiveness of law enforcement services provided.


For details on all of the 2004 IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award-winning programs, call the IACP at 800-843-4227, or visit the IACP Web site at ( Applications are now available online for the 2005 IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award. The deadline for receipt of completed applications is April 4, 2005. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 1, January 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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