Seniors vs Crime Project 1989-2002 History

Mr. Vern Thornton, a retired Chief Deputy from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office served as a consultant with AARP Criminal Justice Services. Mr. Thornton was a member of the Attorney General's Task Force and the follow-up Attorney General Survey . He proposed an ongoing crime prevention program for Florida Seniors.

In 1989 the Florida Legislature directed the Attorney General to form a task force to report on crime and the elderly.

The task force brought attention to the large number of situations where senior citizens were being taken advantage of. The Task Force found that seniors were being targeted for scams, were being subjected to high-pressure tactics by salespersons, and were being deceived by false advertising at an alarming frequency. Mr. Vern Thornton, a retired Chief Deputy from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, served on the Task Force as a consultant with AARP Criminal Justice Services.

Following the Task Force’s report, Attorney General Butterworth decided to conduct a survey of Florida seniors to determine the prevalence of scams and deceptive practices towards seniors. Members of his staff worked with Sheriffs, Chiefs of Police, and Area Agencies on Aging to develop a list of seniors who were willing to participate in a formal survey.

After the seniors were identified for the study, each senior was asked to log all door-to-door sales pitches, telemarketing calls and unsolicited sales pitches made to them over a 30-day period. Log sheets were supplied to each senior to document this information.

The volunteers were also asked to collect all of their junk mail received over the same time frame and forward it to the Attorney General’s Office. Senior volunteers were referred to as “Senior Spotters”. The information collected during the survey was reviewed and prompted thorough investigations by the Attorney General’s Office.

The Attorney General was able to bring suit against a number of companies for deceptive trade practices. A number of other cases were referred to the State Attorney for criminal prosecutions as a result of the leads prompted by the survey information.

The survey revealed that senior citizens were very willing to assist law enforcement in combating crimes that were being perpetrated against them. The Attorney General determined that there was considerable value to having seniors participate in their own protection.

Attorney General Butterworth stated "With Florida’s explosive growth and the increase in age of our state’s population have come criminal behavior directed against our senior citizens. Perhaps even more important than the raw numbers is the psychological and emotional impact of crime on our older citizens…. As we educate law enforcement, social services, judiciary, and other elements of our society, it is critical that we also educate our senior citizens.”

Seniors vs Crime Founder Vern Thornton and Florida Attorney General, Charlie Crist (photo from 2005 Annual Report)

From the 2002 Seniors vs Crime Annual Report, a large audience seeking education, see button for Project's annual reports

At the conclusion of the survey, Vern Thornton presented the Attorney General with an ongoing crime prevention program to continue the work of the task force and the survey initiative. Vern Thornton proposed that the new program would be run by volunteers and focused on crime and fraud prevention education for Florida’s growing senior population.

The Seniors vs Crime Project initially began in 5 counties on the Florida East Coast and quickly increased from 3 to 300 volunteers.

Volunteer local "Coordinators" were identified to assist in recruiting new volunteers and to help in presenting crime prevention topics to senior groups. Volunteers gradually became more active in assisting law enforcement.

Examples of work performed by volunteers, referred to as Senior Sleuths, in the early days included crime prevention talks, checking on scanner prices at supermarkets, counting pills when picking up prescription medications, and performing undercover stings that captured salespeople utilizing high pressure sales techniques or businesses engaging in false and deceptive practices.

In 2001, the Seniors vs Crime Project added office operations which began a new era for the Seniors vs Crime Project.