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Seniors, don't be victims

September 15, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

The senior citizens who showed up for a talk on how to become more alert to crime, fraud and scams weren't timid - they made it clear they want to take charge of their lives.

"We are confronted as we've never been confronted before,'' said Mary Della Toffalo of SALT, an acronym for Seniors and Law Enforcement Together. "We need to be alert.''

With that in mind, more than 30 seniors gathered Monday at the Funkstown American Legion to hear tips from the experts.

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Speaking were Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Gina Cirincion, Victim/Witness Coordinator Jill Ritter and Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Jim Cooper.

Many seniors had questions about protection while others expressed concerns that the criminal justice system often doesn't protect people enough.

"Why do women have to wait til they get killed in domestic violence situations?'' asked Charles Gossard.

Ritter said many times women/victims will keep going back to the abuser.

"We tell them what is available for help but we can't help them if they go back,'' Ritter said.

In many cases, victims must do their part to help themselves.

"You need to learn how to be a good witness...or victim,'' Cooper said.

- Keep a pad and pencil by the telephone to jot down tag numbers and colors of suspicious vehicles, direction when they left, loud exhaust?, one headlight ?, etc.

- Remember the race, age, height, clothing of suspects.

"If you are a victim, give them what they want. Nothing is worth getting killed for,'' Cooper said.

At home, seniors should keep the serial numbers of all big-ticket items they own so they'll be easier to trace if stolen.

Cooper also advises seniors to keep doors and windows locked, even if they are outside working in their gardens. And always lock their cars.

Watch out for scam artists - roof jobs, driveway paving - don't part with your money, Cooper said.

"You are our eyes and ears,'' Cooper told the group. "Give us a call.''

Ritter explained her job as being a friend to victims and witnesses to crime.

"I answer questions, take them through the judicial process and work with the state's attorney handling their case,'' Ritter said.

The process starts as soon as a crime is reported to a Washington County District Court commissioner, Ritter said.

At that point, she sends a letter and the contact begins. There are meetings right up to the day of trial and then Ritter is right beside the victims and witnesses when they testify.

A question about plea bargains from Wayne Taylor brought a response from Cirincion who has been a prosecutor in Washington County for three years.

Taylor wanted to know how much impact a victim has in negotiating plea bargains.

The answer was very little - that decision is up to the prosecutor and depends on many factors, Cirincion said.

"If every case was a jury trial, it would bankrupt Washington County,'' she said.

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