NEW ULM - It's been quite a few years since Opal Dewanz became a member of Triad, a group of senior citizens, law enforcement officers and others who work together to build trust and keep senior safe.
"I've been always interested in law enforcement," Dewanz says. "The goals of the group struck a cord with me. I think it is important that seniors feel more comfortable dealing with law enforcement, that they know it is quite all right to call if you receive a suspicious letter or call..."
Triad is about educating seniors, continues Dewanz. Many get caught in scams, losing thousands of dollars, she adds.
Triad participants pictured at the rummage sale fundraiser in New Ulm from left: Eric Gramentz of the New Ulm Police Department, Opal Dewanz and Bert Marth
Triad can also be about personal safety and even survival, adds Dewanz. She tells the story of a senior who suffered a stroke. By the time emergency personnel arrived, the stroke victim could no longer talk, yet kept pointing to a sheet of paper. She had followed Triad's advice and filled out an emergency information form, listing things such as medical conditions, medications taken, doctor's name, who to notify in case of an emergency, etc. The form may well have saved the stroke victim's life!
In 1988, representatives of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the International Association of Chiefs (IACP) and the National Sheriff's Association (NSA) came together to attempt to define a way to keep seniors safe from crime, explains Julie Duehring, a corporal at the New Ulm Police Department who is a law enforcement member of Brown County Triad and Vice-President of Minnesota state Triad association. The Triad model emerged from that effort, explains Duehring.
If you go:
What: Annual state Triad conference
When: Sept. 18 - 20
Where: Jackpot Junction Casino, Morton
The TRIAD organization was a project that the Minnesota Sheriff's Association created as a way to bring senior citizens and law enforcement together, she adds. Triad is not an acronym: it simply represents a group of three. Triad's goal at its inception, as now, is to reduce crime against the elderly and to reduce the fear of crime that seniors often experience.
The Brown County Triad association was formed about the same time in the 1980's, continues Duehring. The members consist of law enforcement representatives and senior citizens from communities in Brown County including Springfield, Comfrey, Hanska, Sleepy Eye and New Ulm. The Brown County Sheriff's Office and New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Comfrey and Springfield Police Departments are active members as well.
The group meets on the third Tuesday of each month, in different communities, continues Duehring.
"We discuss current scams and events and work on fundraising projects. It's a friendly, laid-back group. We are always looking for new members; you can be as active as you want.
"We have developed a strong bond with the seniors, and we have great fun educating other seniors and the community how to not become a victim of identity theft and learn personal safety tips. Our group is active in giving presentations and acting out scam skits."
The group has participated in the National Night Out, "manned" booths at Party in the Park in Sleepy Eye and the Springfield Senior Expo, held a rummage sale fund raiser, and visited numerous assisted living and other senior living facilities throughout the county, adds Dewanz. It has addressed church and other groups: "whoever asks us to get the word out," to quote Dewanz. Members have also taken part in radio programs on KNUJ explaining the latest scams.
"There are many scams out there targeting the seniors citizens," says Duehring. "Our group tries to get the word out there not to give out your social security number, date of birth or banking information to anyone over the phone or by letter."
Most recent scams appearing, and continuing to strike, according to Duehring, are: the grandparent scam; the door-to-door sales people selling magazines, food, etc.; a person wins the lottery without ever signing up for it, etc.
"These are a few of the thousands out there, ready to take your identity and swindle you out of your savings," says Duehring. "We strongly encourage folks to report suspicious activity when it is happening. If you fall victim, you need to contact the authorities as well."
Approximately 25 counties throughout Minnesota have active TRIAD organizations, adds Duehring.
"We are working hard to have Triad in all 87 counties in Minnesota, to provide for safer communities for our seniors throughout the whole state," she adds.
The upcoming state conference, in this area this year, is focused on safety, with speakers who are experts in their fields. They include, according to Duehring: a drug task force commander speaking on drugs and gangs; a pharmacist detailing prescription medication abuse and the take-to-the-box program; professional truck drivers; State Patrol experts with driving tips; Heart of New Ulm project experts talking about healthier living; Family Services representatives addressing current senior issues, etc.
The event will provide opportunities for networking, local entertainment, food and fun, she adds.