Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced an agreement between the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and the New York Division of State Police to establish consistent guidelines for which incidents of abuse against any of the 126,000 individuals receiving support from the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities and its network of nonprofit providers should be reported as potential crimes. This joint protocol is another step in a comprehensive agenda being pursued by the Governor and OPWDD Commissioner Courtney Burke to assure the safety, cost effectiveness, and quality of care of those individuals and to streamline government in a way that puts New Yorkers first.
"Government programs operate effectively and provide better services for taxpayers when they work together," Governor Cuomo said. "This cooperative agreement between OPWDD and the State Police will strengthen care and protections for individuals with developmental disabilities, and is another step forward in our comprehensive plan for a government which runs better in a cost-effective way."
OPWDD Commissioner Burke said, "This reform ensures that those who engage in criminal conduct against individuals in our care are held accountable through consistent reporting to law enforcement. Governor Cuomo has directed state entities to partner on matters of shared interest, and this agreement with the State Police provides the employees and individuals within our system the confidence in knowing what is clearly expected of them and that criminal action will be taken against those who engage in criminal behavior."
Superintendent of State Police Joseph D'Amico said, "It is incumbent upon society to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Protecting the lives of people with developmental disabilities is an obligation shared by the law enforcement community. This memorandum of understanding clearly spells out what behaviors must be reported to law enforcement. Accordingly, law enforcement will thoroughly investigate reports of abuse against developmentally disabled citizens."
Senator Roy McDonald said, "Protecting New York's most vulnerable population of residents, those individuals with developmental disabilities, is more important today than ever before. The struggles these wonderful people and their families face on a daily basis should not include if they are going to be abused in a setting where they should be safe. This agreement is a step in the right direction towards giving peace of mind to the family members and ensured security for those with disabilities across the state."
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz said, "I applaud Governor Cuomo for working to make state government operate in a more efficient manner that not only benefits taxpayers but also institutes common sense reforms. Laws must be enforced consistently and fairly across the board. We must work to bring those who are guilty of abusing one of our most vulnerable populations in our state's network of service providers to justice. I look forward to continuing to work with Governor Cuomo to protect and serve those with developmental disabilities and making sure our government is working effectively for the people of New York."
Shameka Andrews, an individual from the Capitol Region, said, "I am very encouraged that OPWDD and state government are taking our concerns so seriously and reforming the system to make our lives better. No one should live in fear that they or their friends will be harmed and no one will do anything about it. We should all be able to feel confident that abuse will not be tolerated and will be reported to the police. I'm pleased that will now happen."
Ann Scherff, the parent of a child with developmental disabilities from Western New York, said, "A parent's biggest concern, the thing that keeps us awake at night, is the safety of our children and whether the people providing their care are as equally concerned. I am very pleased to see all of the reforms occurring at OPWDD, but this one in particular, because it is a big step in the right direction. It is important that we always focus on how to improve the system, the care available to our children, and the policies and procedures that are in place to hold bad apples accountable. I thank Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Burke, and Superintendent D'Amico for their hard work, but above all, for listening."
Nick Cappoletti, Executive Director of Syracuse-based Advocates Incorporated, said, "Individuals with developmental disabilities and their family members can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing the state is implementing a consistent process for reporting abuse and possibly criminal events. It is important that law enforcement be involved in these investigations. I thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership, and commend Commissioner Burke for moving so quickly to provide outside oversight, which everyone agrees makes sense. I also want to acknowledge the State Police for their efforts and recognizing that people who abuse individuals must be held accountable by the law."
A report to law enforcement is to be made in instances such as:
* Intentional hitting, slapping, pinching, kicking, hurling, strangling or shoving of an individual receiving services by a staff member;
* Any sexual contact that occurs between a person receiving services and an employee;
* Any sexual contact that occurs between two persons receiving services in which one person uses force or coercion;
* Any situation where a staff member knowingly fails to act or acts in a manner that is injurious to the physical or mental welfare of an individual unable to care for himself or herself;
* Any instance where a person dies in a manner in which the cause of death is unknown, or in which the individual is not under the care of a physician and the death is not due to natural causes; and
* Theft and property crimes against people receiving services.
The directors of OPWDD's 13 regionally-based Developmental Disabilities Services Offices (DDSOs), as well as executive directors of nonprofit provider agencies, will partner with their local law enforcement entities to develop consistent procedures for reporting incidents--including how reports are processed and incidents are investigated, as well as designating a staff liaison for local law enforcement. OPWDD will provide training to recruits and other members of the State Police Academy regarding the challenges of interviewing witnesses and investigating crimes against people with developmental disabilities.
For incidents in which there is a question on whether law enforcement should be involved, a designated member of the State Police's Bureau of Criminal Investigations Special Victims Unit will assist in a review. This individual will participate in meetings with local State Police units to provide guidance in the development of reporting procedures.
The agreement between OPWDD and the State Police goes into effect on August 15.