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Sun Gazette: Effort to Protect Seniors from Fraud Wins Crime Solvers’ Honor Print


Created:  Friday, May 4, 2012 10:00AM

In their quest to keep Arlington seniors from becoming victims of fraud, Arlington Police Detective Christine Everest and Officer James O'Daniel are proponents of proactive policing.

"They don't simply go out and take the report," county Police Chief Douglas Scott said. "They identify the problem and they work to solve the problem."

Their efforts, Scott said, have "significantly reduced" the impact of fraud against seniors in the community.

And on May 2, Arlington County Crime Solvers honored Everest and O'Daniel with its first "Detective of the Year" honors, presented at a luncheon at Busboys and Poets in Shirlington.

"We really are recognizing some of Arlington's finest. You really are the unsung heroes," Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) said when presenting the pair with General Assembly resolutions honoring their work.

Everest, O'Daniel and other officers have for several years been on the case of so-called "woodchucks" – bands of gypsy-type individuals who move from community to community "with the sole intent of preying upon our senior citizens," Scott said.

"Sometimes, they milk [victims'] entire life savings," he said.

County police use human intelligence and computer databases to get at the heart of the problem, and coordinate efforts with the commonwealth's attorney's office, to make Arlington as inhospitable to the human kind of woodchucks as possible, the chief said.

The luncheon also served to showcase the reinvigoration of the county Crime Solvers program, which was launched more than a decade ago but has largely been under the radar among the public.

Andres Tobar, who heads the organization, said the decision to honor the work of the detective force was a way to differentiate the awards from, and not compete with, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce's annual Valor Awards program.

"It is a delight," Tobar said of the turnout for the first awards ceremony. "Everybody in this room is a VIP."

County Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada, who spoke at the ceremony, said police need to be aggressive in taking on those in the criminal element who focus on seniors.

"Any crime is bad – crime against the elderly is particularly bad," Tejada said.

Tejada said the local Crime Solvers effort works best when it serves as a bridge between the community and law enforcement.

"Citizens and police have established great partnerships, and it's important that we maintain that trust," Tejada said. "We need community participation .  Crime Solvers can serve as the platform for this partnership. We can't put our heads in the sand – all of us have a role to play."

Nationally, Crime Solvers got its start in the 1970s in New Mexico, and through the years its efforts have resulted in the arrests of 80,000 suspects and the payment of about $3 million in reward funds.

Tobar said that because crime doesn't respect geographic borders, it's important to build as many regional partnerships as possible. At the local level, the Arlington organization has developed strong ties with Crime Solvers in Prince George's County.

The Arlington County Crime Solvers Web site – www.arlingtoncrimesolvers.org – provides information on how the public can be involved in reporting information about criminal activities, and how those reports can lead to the possibility of cash rewards.