One of the cornerstones of the Massachusetts BPI is a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), specific to each district attorney’s jurisdiction. There are eleven district attorneys in Massachusetts whose jurisdictions are, for the most part, divided along county lines. District attorneys are the chief law enforcement officers for their respective jurisdictions and, therefore, responsible for the prosecution of crimes that occur in those jurisdictions.
The MOU is a cooperative agreement between law enforcement, prosecutors and adult protection. Its purpose is to provide a framework for the prompt and effective reporting, investigation and prosecution of crimes against a person with a disability. The MOU identifies, in a particular jurisdiction, the reporting and investigatory responsibilities of law enforcement and persons and agencies providing services to a person with a disability. As such, the MOU has the added benefit of addressing issues before they become problems and of preventing duplication of services and resources. Cases are less likely to fall through the cracks.
The process begins with a report of an allegation of abuse or neglect of a person with a disability. Massachusetts is unique in having a State Police Detective Unit (SPDU) assigned to the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC), an independent adult protection and oversight agency that receives reports of suspected abuse. The SPDU’s members are experienced state police officers that review reports of abuse to determine whether a crime has been committed against a person with a disability.
If appropriate, a referral is then made to the district attorney in whose jurisdiction the alleged abuse occurred. A specially designated assistant district attorney or coordinator reviews the referral, assigns it for further investigation to local or state police in his/her jurisdiction or to state police assigned to SPDU and decides whether there is sufficient evidence to seek a criminal complaint(s). At that time, an Adult Protective Service (APS) investigator is also assigned. Throughout the review and investigation period, there is ongoing communication and coordination between law enforcement and the APS investigator. In fact, it is the intent and spirit of the MOU that, in all circumstances, a criminal investigator makes every reasonable effort to include the APS investigator in all parts of the criminal investigation.
The APS investigator assists with the interview of a person with a disability and other witnesses, shares information concerning the services provided and/or available by his/her agency to all involved parties and, where allowed by statute, obtains files and records from prior investigations involving the same alleged victim or alleged abuser. The APS investigator protects the alleged victim’s or alleged abuser’s privacy rights, as required by law, during the criminal investigation and recommends protective services to the alleged victim in a timely manner.
When abuse of a person with a disability is alleged, under Massachusetts law, an APS investigator is required to conduct a civil investigation to determine whether abuse has occurred and what protective services are needed. Usually, a joint investigation between law enforcement and APS provides the information/evidence necessary to satisfy the requirements of an APS investigation. The cooperative aspect of the MOU allows for communication/decision-making between the criminal and civil investigators, resulting in better protections for the victim(s).