Seniors vs Crime Project History

The Seniors vs Crime Project was founded as a result of the findings of a 1989 Legislative Task Force.

The Task Force, led by Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, and a follow-up Attorney General Survey, were both focused on crime and the elderly. After the Attorney General's Survey was completed, Vern Thornton, a member of the Task Force and Survey Team, proposed that the Attorney General establish an ongoing crime prevention program to continue the work of the task force and the survey initiative. The new program became the Seniors vs Crime Project and Vern Thornton became the first Executive Director. The initial mission of the Seniors vs Crime Project was to a establish a volunteer speakers bureau that would educate seniors on how to avoid being scammed.

From 1989 to 2001, the demand for the speakers bureau education services increased. Project volunteers began to encounter more and more seniors who had been taken advantage of, and needed coaching or more involved assistance to recover monies they had lost. Concerned that these seniors needed assistance, one of the Seniors vs Crime Project Directors suggested the establishment of "project offices" where volunteers could to meet with seniors and assist them in the recovery of the money they had lost. The Director's suggestion was accepted, and the Seniors vs Crime Project began planning for a pilot. The pilot's goal was to assess the need for a walk-in facility that would provide senior-to-senior personal guidance or assistance for seniors who had been taken advantage of or cheated.

The pilot project office opened in a storefront location in Delray Beach on July 1, 2001.

Within a month the new Delray Beach Project Office had returned $100,000 to seniors. By the end of 2001, the pilot proved to be extremely successful in helping seniors who were in direct need.

In 2002 Vern Thornton, the first Executive Director of Seniors vs Crime retired. The Board of Directors appointed one of the project's directors, Donald Ravenna, to replace him.

Donald Ravenna, current Seniors vs Crime Executive Director (left), Vern Thornton, Seniors vs Crime founder and first Executive Director (right) Shortly after his retirement, Vern Thornton became the author of the Seniors vs Crime story (see button below for info regarding the book).

The newly appointed Executive Director, Donald Ravenna, a retired Major from the Vermont State Police, analyzed the success of the Delray Beach pilot office. Based on the cost of the storefront operation in the pilot, he realized that funding would not allow for the opening of additional storefront offices due to the expenses - rent, telephones, utilities, etc. As a retired law enforcement officer, he realized that the best avenue for expanding the project office concept would be a partnership with law enforcement.

The first law enforcement co-located office of the Seniors vs. Crime Project was opened in Beverly Hills, in partnership with the Citrus County Sheriff.

The success of the Citrus County Office demonstrated to law enforcement agencies that the Seniors vs. Crime Project was a perfect fit for their departments. No longer would their officers have to tell a senior “I am sorry but this is a civil complaint. You will need to hire an attorney or file in small claims court." They now had a place where they could refer complainants so that they could get help. The partnership was a win-win situation for the Project and the hosting law enforcement agency.

The addition of office operations refocused the Seniors vs Crime Project toward three primarily objectives:

  • First, the Project would continue to offer fraud and crime prevention education seminars to Florida's elderly and law enforcement,

  • Second, the Project would provide offices, primarily hosted by law enforcement or other government agencies, to assist seniors who have been cheated or scammed or taken advantage of, and

  • Third, the Project would provide seniors with a productive way to meet other seniors, learn new skills or refresh pre-retirement skills, and work alongside other seniors, while at the same time helping fellow seniors who are in need of guidance or assistance.

After the initial Citrus County office was proved successful in 2002, new project offices were opened in partnerships with local county Sheriffs: Marion, Palm Beach, and Sumter Counties.

In 2003 the Seniors vs Crime Project embraced developing internet technologies, and recognized the rapidly increasing value of the internet to assist volunteer project staff. The Project established a new minimum requirements for all project offices which included a minimum of one computer with internet access. This requirement also allowed volunteers to gain experience using computers and the internet.

In 2003, six additional project offices were opened as the value of the office concept became more widely recognized. New offices included: Ocala (Marion County Sheriff’s Office), Leesburg and Clermont (Lake County Sheriff’s Office), Orlando (Orange County Sheriff’s Office), Merritt Island (Brevard County), and Pinellas Park (Pinellas Park Police Department).

On the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Citrus County Project Office, this video features the Citrus County Project Office Manager, Don Moran (retired), with the project office volunteers, and a presentation by the Citrus County Sheriff. The Sheriff recounts his experience in assisting with the establishment of the first law enforcement co-located project office, and he touts the benefits that a law enforcement organization has with a Seniors vs Crime Project Office co-located in their departments. Video: Citrus County Sheriff via Utube

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orlando District 2 City Commissioner Tony Ortiz and Orlando Police Chief Val Demings celebrate the opening of the first Seniors vs. Crime Project office in Orlando in the new District 2 City of Orlando Police Department Satellite Office. Video: City of Orlando via Utube

After the successful opening of six new offices in 2003, the project office concept and the Project's relationship with law enforcement agencies was well established. Since then, new offices have continued to open on a routine basis throughout the state.

The Seniors vs. Crime Project continues to partner with police departments and Sheriff’s Offices to provide seniors with direct help that was previously unavailable to most citizens. Offices will continue to emerge as a positive means to help seniors combat fraud, high-pressure sales tactics, deceptive advertising and outright criminal conduct.

While approaches and methods used by the Project may change over the years, the goal will remain the same - prevent victimization and provide a way for seniors to contribute to the safety of all Floridians.

What started as a small organization in 1989, primarily on the East Coast, has now grown statewide with over 2,000 Senior Sleuths with over 35 project offices. New Sleuths are being added to the roster daily and new ways to get them involved in assisting other seniors are being explored.