Baltimore County officials are launching a program to alert senior citizens by phone to crimes against the elderly, as police cope with the latest rash of burglaries against older residents.
Officials said senior citizens who agree will have their phone numbers added to the Police Department's automated dialing system.
When crimes are committed that affect the elderly, the phone system will call and play a recorded message informing residents about a pattern of crimes.
'Intended to protect'
The program -- using a system known as Telephone Reassurance Information Auto Dialer (TRIAD) -- is scheduled to begin today.
"It is intended to protect neighborhoods," said Charles Fisher, director of the county's Department of Aging.
The county began using an automated dialing system in December 1996, which was designed to call neighborhoods when there is a sudden increase in area crime. Residents do not have to submit their names to receive the recording.
The new system, which is voluntary, specifically aims such warnings to the elderly.
The recording is part of a daylong conference to be held today dedicated to fighting crime against the elderly, and includes speakers from the FBI, the county Police Department and the American Association of Retired Persons.
The county has the highest concentration of senior citizens in the state -- 138,000 or 19 percent of its population, Fisher said. Police see the elderly as especially vulnerable to burglaries and fraud.
This year, 36 burglaries have been reported in which senior citizens were deceived into letting someone into the house or leaving their house while a burglar entered, according to police.
"That's definitely an increase," Gardner said. "All spring and summer, we have had several deception crimes."
In a two-week period, six burglaries were committed against senior citizens, in which someone went to the door and distracted the homeowner while another stole cash and jewelry, police said.
Two burglaries each occurred in Towson, Essex and White Marsh, police said. They suspect two people -- a man and a woman -- committed all six, said Detective Molly Gardner of the county's burglary unit.
The couple usually tells the resident they are members of the water department and "as soon as the victim opens the door, they walk right in," Gardner said.
The woman usually distracts residents by asking them to run water in a bathroom or kitchen sink while the man steals items from the bedroom, police said.
Difficult to catch
Police said catching the suspects is difficult because the elderly often cannot describe them or they are embarrassed and do not report the crime. Victims have ranged in age from 69 to 91 years old, and have had stolen $20 to $800 in cash, and $500 to $900 in jewelry, Gardner said.
County Department of Aging directors, who said they often hear complaints from senior citizens about people trying to enter their homes, offer services and post bulletins to warn seniors.
"There has been conversations about it," said Joan Conway, director of Edgemere Senior Center. "We just try to inform them."
People who want their phone numbers included in the TRIAD system can call the Baltimore County Department of Aging at 410-887-2594.