Officer is police link to senior community

He follows up on crimes reported by the elderly

April 28, 2003|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

After a snowstorm early last month, a man and a woman posing as good Samaritans knocked on the door of a 73-year-old West Baltimore woman offering to shovel her steps.

Moments later they were gone - and so were the trusting woman's blank checks, jewelry and food.

When Carolyn Brown heard what had happened to her sister, who has a heart condition and is nearly blind, she knew who to turn to: Baltimore police Officer Jerry Heid.

For the past three years, Heid has been the main link between the city's police force and its elderly community. He follows up on crimes against seniors, holds safety seminars and meets with concerned residents in their homes.

"He needs to be triplets 'cause he's always on the go," Brown said.

Heid created the job of senior liaison in 1998 after he noticed an increase in crimes and quality-of-life issues - such as noisy neighbors - involving older residents. He initially dealt with the seniors community in the department's Northeast District, where he has spent his entire career, but he expanded his reach citywide when former Commissioner Edward T. Norris joined the force in 2000.

One of his main tasks, Heid said, is simply to listen to older residents' concerns.

"When I talk to seniors, I feel that they feel as though they may be forgotten," said Heid, 59, in his 40th year on the force. "I want them to know they are not forgotten about."

Heid, who once disarmed a suspect with a shotgun but has spent most of his career in community relations, spends much of his time visiting or calling people who have filed criminal reports. He freely gives out his pager number, as well as leaflets containing safety tips.

Not all of Heid's calls involve crimes. During a snowstorm last winter, Mary Howard of Northwest Baltimore needed to refill her oil tank, but her oil company told her it would not be able to get through the snow. So Howard called Heid, who made sure the company was at her house the next day.

"It really means something when you call someone and he says he'll try his best," said Howard, 75.

Recently, Heid went to a woman's home that had been broken into while she was away. The woman, who moved into her Northeast Baltimore neighborhood in the early 1950s, said she was going to move out of the city because her neighborhood "has changed."

"We don't want you to leave," he told her. "Don't become paranoid."

But that can be hard in a city like Baltimore, which consistently has one of the highest crime rates in the country. Seniors often respond by isolating themselves in their homes or moving away, which may contribute to the problem, Heid said.

"Seniors always see things," Heid said. "But you need to communicate with them."

Frank Bailey, director for AARP Maryland, said surveys conducted by his organization show that 85 percent of seniors place feeling safe in their communities as their top priority.

"One of the ways to help that is if the citizen can build a relationship with the police department," Bailey said.

Heid has not worked directly with AARP but holds seminars at retirement homes and community centers. He constantly warns of "flim-flams," schemes that often occur in seniors' homes. He shares stories such as the case of Brown's sister.

Her sister was snowed in when a man and woman claiming to be old friends of her son's offered to do chores around the house. After they left, she discovered items missing around her house, including a watch.

Brown, a retired public schools employee, had to calm her sister down when she learned the thieves had drained her bank account by cashing her checks.

"My sister called me and she pushed the panic button," said Brown, 66. "I made one phone call to someone I knew and they gave me Officer Heid. He called back 40 minutes later and we went from there. He has been extremely helpful" in working with the bank on her account.

Heid, who grew up in Northeast Baltimore and lives with his wife in Bowleys Quarters, said he plans to retire next year. Lt. Joseph Chianca, operations commander of the Northeast District, said the department will find a replacement for Heid when he retires.

Elaine Salter, director of a fund-raising group at Good Samaritan Hospital who invited Heid to give a seminar there, said Heid's age has enabled him to be more empathetic about seniors.

"Older people - we were raised to help everybody and there was no problem with doors being left open," said Salter, 72, of Northeast Baltimore. "Everybody was welcome and we truly trusted everyone. It's such a hard thing to change for an older person to go from being so trustworthy to not trusting anybody anymore."

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