- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

Lelia Parker laughed yesterday when asked whether she sees a lot of crime in her neighborhood.

“I live in D.C.,” she said, smiling.

Like many of her friends, Mrs. Parker, 54, recalls the numerous times she has seen thieves in her Northeast neighborhood steal cars in broad daylight — including the time they took her friend’s car from outside her home last Christmas.

So she jumped on the opportunity to enroll in the District’s first Senior Citizens Police Academy, along with 40 others who also will learn how to curb crime.

The 12-week program, which began yesterday, is sponsored by the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Office on Aging and is open to city residents 50 and older.

Instead of learning the dangerous task of fighting crime, participants will learn such skills as how to observe their neighborhoods more closely and how officers use crime reports to solve cases.

“What we’ve been telling seniors is we need your eyes and ears,” said Michael Fitzgerald, the department executive assistant chief. “We’re also telling them we need their minds [and] we are trying to give them some guidance.”

Mrs. Parker is game.

“Maybe I can make a difference,” she said. “Maybe my input can help bring along change in a neighborhood. And if we intend to take our streets back, we’ve all got to pitch in.”

The D.C. Attorney General’s Office will also help teach the classes, which will include information ranging from how emergency calls are dispatched, to avoiding scams, to strategies for preventing car thefts and staying safe. The seniors will also participate in ride-alongs with officers and will be given information on how to join the auxiliary police force or the police reserves.

Organizers hope the seniors will leave the program feeling more comfortable when talking with neighbors and police officers about crime and when reporting suspicious activity via 911.

“We want seniors who are informed to go back to the community, talk with their neighbors, get connected to the local police and other residents to begin working on problems,” said Marsha Hott, who works in the police department’s policing for prevention division.

Many of the academy’s participants are already active in their communities.

Vera Abbott, 71 and a former advisory neighborhood commissioner who lives in the Belleview community of Ward 8, has worked with Police Service Area 710 and the Seniors Advisory Council.

Though she describes her neighborhood as “quiet” and “well-maintained,” Mrs. Abbott said car theft is rampant and she wants to learn how to prevent it.

Bessie Brown, 73, also lives in Ward 8, but said, in addition to car thefts, there are gangs and frequent gunfire on her street.

Ms. Brown remembers growing up in Baugh, Tenn., where she could sleep on the porch and leave her doors unlocked. Here, she fears for her grandchildren.

“It’s a different world out there,” she said.

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