About 85 percent of the elderly of Montgomery County are afraid of being out of their homes and many do not go at night or ride public transportation. This information comes from a study conducted by the police department's Crime Prevention Unit.
These fears restrict participation by the elderly in programs or services for seniors, and in educational or cultural activities available in the Washington area. This is unfortunate and may also be unnecessary, if elders follow the advice of the police department.
Members of the department regularly go to senior centers, clubs and housing sites to give talks on personal safety and property protection.The department's crime prevention program consists of research, education and victim assistance which, on occasion, has included a supportive visit to a hospitalized victim.
The 1976 study revealed other sobering information. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed had been victims of at least one actual or attempted crime in the previous five years. Theft, vandalism, robbery and burglary are the victim rarely suffers physical injury but does incur monetary loss.
Free copies of informative booklets on crime prevention are available by calling 840-2585, including one called Crime Prevention for Seniors.
The booklet of seniors contains sections of information and advice on robbery, con games, reporting crimes, and services offered by the Department of Police Crime Prevention Unit. Special services are provided by a Criminal victimization Response Team established to help elderly persons who have been victimized.
A sub-section on "Walking" is an example of information and advice contained in the booklet: Use busier streets when going to your destination (even if this means a longer route). Walk with a friend or relative, if possible. If you must carry a purse, carry it securely to discourage a thief from choosing you as a victim. Carry as little cash as possible. Carry a whistle or an air horn in your hand. If someone follows you, go to the nearest open store and have someone call the police for you:
Some general advice in case of attempted robbery is also given: Do not resist - money can be replaced, you cannot. Try to get a good description of your assailant. Call the police immediately by dialing 911.
Another booklet provided by the Department of Police deals with burglary, described as "the fastest-growing felony in the United States today, and one to which we are all vulnerable." The introduction warns that, "carelessness and apathy on the part of the homeowner or apartment dweller leads to increased opportunity for the burglary to act."
There are 28 suggestions for home burglary prevention. Some are general, like "discourage the burglar from choosing you," and some are quite specific, like "keeping your ladders and tools out of sight." According to the booklet a home that has an occupied look or appears difficult to enter is less likely to be singled out for attack.
Apparently people sometimes unintentionally advertise their homes as a good place to burglarize. Classified advertising that uses a home address, announcements of social events or funerals, or an overflow mail box are often invitaions to burglary. It is suggested that the best solution to such problems may be to hire a house sitter when resident is away.
The burglary prevention booklet also contains a fairly detailed section on making a home security check, with specific information on securing doors and windows. Advice includes the best kinds of locks to install and discussion of the merits of various alarm system.
"It is legitimate to be cautious, but it's not intellegient to be isolated," said Officer George Heinrich. "Isolation in the elderly over 60 can bring about depression and feelings of low self-esteem." The unit hopes not only to reduce the incidence of crime but to reduce the incidence of crime but to reduce unwarranted fears as well.
While crime prevention is the ideal, there is also the needed provision for helping those who are victimized. In 1969 the state of Maryland established a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board which oversees the awarding of claims for those sustaining injury as a result of criminal acts against them. Survivor benefits are provided when applicable. A brochure explaining this service is available from the polcie.
Comparable services are provided in other jurisdictions in the Washington area. Prime George's County seniors have literature on crime prevention availabel to them and their police department schedules talks and film showings on crime prevention when ever groups request this service. The number to call for arrangements, for further information or for other help is 336-8800.
The Montgomery County study did not reveal clear pattern of victims, suggesting rather that "anyone can be a victim." Fear of victimization, however, seems to be greater among the elderly. For this reason, the program for seniors is designed both to reduce the incidence of crime and fear of victimization. Prevention is considered best achieved through the cooperation of individual citizens who can help by being alert for suspicious citizens who can help by being alert for suspicious situations and reporting them to the police.