Seniors concerned about crime

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 28, 1999

When pushed to a point, sometimes elderly crime victims will push back. Such was the case Monday when Josephine Keys of 623 East Stiers Lane fired a shot from her .22 caliber Remington Field Master rifle in the direction of three juveniles who had just broken the tail light of her 1997 Ford Escort.

She and her husband, Willie H. Keys, are 71 and 78 years old, respectively. They have lived in the same house since 1949.

&uot;She keeps a little rifle,&uot; Willie Keys said, adding that his wife has grown increasingly afraid of growing crime in their neighborhood.

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&uot;She fired one shot down in the bayou,&uot; he said. &uot;She wasn’t trying to hit anybody. She just wanted to give them the message of what could happen if they come back.&uot;

The trouble with this response is that it is inappropriate use of deadly force, said Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff.

&uot;That rifle bullet could have hit some innocent person,&uot; he said. &uot;You only use deadly force if you’re in imminent danger.&uot;

Before the tail light was broken, the Keys said they had lawn mowers and oil stolen, screen doors cut, a door nearly kicked in and an arson attempt on one of their cars parked next to their modest house.

Senior citizens who have experienced crimes like these have a place to turn, Huff said.

The Natchez Police Department works with the Adams County Sheriff’s Department and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program to provide educational programs for senior citizens under a program called Triad.

&uot;It teaches the elderly how to handle it when they’re victimized,&uot; Huff said.

Funded through a grant from the Mississippi Leadership Council on Aging, Triad is a cooperative of the three agencies seeking to reduce victimization of the elderly in Adams County.

Governed by an advisory council called Seniors and Lawmen Together or S.A.L.T., Triad offers opportunity for law enforcement officers to exchange information on areas of concern to senior citizens.

And senior citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about protecting themselves and their property, according to a recent Triad survey.

Conducted Dec. 8, the survey of 259 Adams County residents aged 50 and over showed that the No. 1 crime concern of seniors is burglary — a crime against property rather than person.

Seniors were asked to rank the top five crimes they feared most.

The top five responses were burglary, residential burglary, drugs, purse snatching and loud music.

Ironically, seniors ranked these crimes above rape, murder, abuse, neglect, gangs and assault.

&uot;They’re just thinking about their own belongings, I’m sure,&uot; said Janet McNeely, director of RSVP and coordinator of the Triad program. McNeely noted that many senior citizens filled out surveys based on their personal experience with crime and law enforcement.

In the survey group, 47 percent were between ages 71 and 80, with 35 percent between the ages of 50 and 70, with the remaining 19 percent aged 81 and over.

Women outnumbered men in this age group by a margin of 79 percent to 21 percent.

Triad will use the survey results to tailor meetings for area seniors based on that population’s concerns.

McNeely said she is planning a forum to include representatives from both the Natchez Police Department and the Adams County Sheriff’s Department.

These face to face meetings between law enforcement and senior citizens helps build relationships, McNeely said.

&uot;It helps the seniors become more respectful of the law enforcement officers,&uot; she said, noting that the foundation of trust between seniors and law enforcement will help seniors to call for help when they need it.

McNeely and representatives from the two law enforcement agencies have traveled the county over speaking to senior citizens groups, church groups, civic clubs — anywhere senior citizens gather.

The mileage logged by Triad is paying off. Of the 259 senior citizens surveyed so far, 41 percent or 149 indicated interest in organizing neighborhood watches.

&uot;The city has about 11 or 12 neighborhood watches so far,&uot; McNeely said. &uot;There’s room to grow, but they have to understand that one meeting isn’t going to cut it. It’s got to be an ongoing thing.&uot;

Encouragement for the growth of neighborhood watches can be found in Triad’s survey.

Eighty-five percent of seniors surveyed this month said they would be willing to attend crime prevention meetings in their neighborhood.

Seniors surveyed also said overwhelmingly, by a margin of 99.5 percent, that they would dial 911 if they felt they were in danger.

Willie Keys’ phone call to police Monday was answered promptly.

Yet assurances of increased patrols by Natchez police officers didn’t comfort him much.

&uot;They always say that,&uot; Keys said.