Move afoot to bring together police, elderly


Maryland's law enforcement officials appear ready to embrace a program that seeks to forge close ties between police and elderly people.

The program, called Triad, is gaining popularity nationwide by bringing police together with elderly people, who often feel detached from those who fight crime, supporters of the 6-year-old concept say.

The idea was developed by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs' Association in 1988.

Nearly 100 law enforcement officers and advocates for the elderly heard details of the plan last week during a presentation by the Maryland Crime Prevention Association at Fort Meade.

Those attending the session also heard Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. warn of fraud against the elderly. He asked participants to tell older people not to be embarrassed to report that they have been victimized by consumer scams.

Baltimore County Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr. said his office is developing a Triad program. Other representatives said their departments are receptive to the idea.

"This is something we need, most definitely," said Sgt. Karen Burnett of the Howard County Police Department. "This will give senior citizens a chance to get to know their police officers."

Triad proponents are hoping that Baltimore and all 23 Maryland counties will adopt some form of the program, which is being used in Wicomico, Frederick and Garrett counties.

Sheriffs in those jurisdictions say the effort has improved relations between law enforcement officials and the elderly.

They said elderly people too often believe their problems are insignificant and, as a result, sometimes don't report suspicious activities, feeling it would be a waste of the police department's time.

Moreover, said a sheriff, officers often unconsciously neglect the needs of the elderly.

"We've totally forgot and ignored our senior citizens," said Garrett County Sheriff Martin Van Evans. "They're the only people left who truly respect police officers, and we're ignoring them."

Wicomico County Sheriff R. Hunter Nelms, president of the Maryland Sheriff's Association, said, "It's incumbent upon us to make ourselves available to the aging population."

Edna D. Butcher, a regional AARP official, said Triad programs would solve the communication problem by making "seniors more aware of what is available to them."

Betsy Cantrell of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Sheriff's Association, said many communities have implemented Triad programs by forming advisory groups.

Ms. Cantrell said the advisory groups usually consist of a police officer, retired community leaders, a health official, a representative of a ministerial association, a manager of a senior center and an advocate for the elderly.

Such groups survey seniors about their concerns and provide them with information on crime prevention and education.

She said some Triads have persuaded grocery stores to provide transportation and set aside shopping hours for elderly customers.

Some of the stores provide "senior" portions of food -- two-piece packages of chicken, for example -- during the designated shopping hours.

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