Criminals target people who appear to be easier targets, but sheriff’s departments throughout the nation are forming alliances to educate and protect a group that is often assumed to be trusting and off guard.
TRIAD — The Right Information and Direction — is a program in which sheriff’s departments team up with senior citizens to educate them on ways to protect themselves from dangers not just from criminals, but also everyday life.
“What TRIAD is, is a three-way partnership. It is a partnership between community, our seniors and our law enforcement. That’s where you get TRIAD from. It’s just three corners coming together and trying to figure out what we can do to reach out and get the word out,” said Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl.
About 30 TRIAD members meet in Cass County, and about 20 in Crow Wing County. Through TRIAD, participating sheriff’s departments educate seniors about the crimes that might target them.
“They’re really targeted by phone scammers or Internet. I think the biggest that we have seen of late is coming by phone, text or email," said Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch. "Seniors are being convinced to send money and get some back, or cash this check and we’ll send a portion back. I would imagine they are retired and the extra income looks really good. What they don’t realize is it is a scam.”
TRIAD members are taught to avoid scams and frauds like the Verizon text scam that recently hit the area. They are also taught to perform like a neighborhood watch and report suspicious activity in an area. In this way they protect not only themselves, but also their neighbors.
“We had a couple big burglary ring arrests made throughout the county this summer. A tip that helped us get in the right direction was from one of the TRIAD members in one of our communities that just happened to have seen a suspicious vehicle,” Burch said.
“We are the eyes and ears of the community, and we hear things, too, and we notify the sheriff’s office on what we know and what we hear," said Mary Ann Huston, a TRIAD member from Backus. "If we get telephone calls with scams going on, we notify the sheriff’s office. They appreciate it, too.”
TRIAD members also volunteer a lot of time in ways that help the department.
“They do a lot of things for us. In 2013, we logged 771 volunteer hours with our TRIAD,” Burch said.
The partnership between TRIAD and law enforcement is all about forming positive relationships.
“You get to know the sheriff, the deputies, and you become acquainted with them to the point you become unafraid to call them," said Maynard Nelson, another TRIAD member from Backus. "There are so many people that hesitate to call if something is going wrong."
“Probably the biggest thing is the opportunity for the law enforcement in the community to get to know more people in the community,” Burch said. “They know who we are. We meet monthly. We’ve got a good working relationship or friendship. I think they are apt to say a little more than if they don’t know us.”
TRIAD is also about accident prevention and learning things that could keep senior citizens in an active, independent lifestyle for longer.
TRIAD members share advice ranging from bathroom safety, to how to carry a sand shaker in your car in case a parking lot is icy, to what to do to make it easier for emergency crews to know what medicines you take when you are unable to tell them.
The Cass County TRIAD group promotes the yellow dot program where a yellow dot on a vehicle alerts emergency crews that that person has medicine or medical information in the car. The group hands out medical information cards for your wallet and larger cards for your refrigerator. The group started promoting cell phone holders after a member had an accident.
“She is in her late 70s and she went out to her mailbox to pick her mail up. She had her car just out of her garage. She left her cell phone in her purse in the car, walked out to the mailbox and fell at the mailbox. It was three hours before anybody found her,” said Backus TRIAD member Betty Nelson.
Crow Wing County holds similar programs and promotions. There are regular driving seminars where participants receive vehicle driving and survival kits.
You could say TRIAD members' benefits are triplicate. They cooperate with law enforcement for education and crime prevention; they join forces with other knowledgeable seniors for health and safety advice; and they make new friends and have fun.
“It’s not all business. We have a lot of fun. People want to come. We’re now talking about when we’re going to be down at Cragun’s. Maybe we’re going to have golfing and pontoon boat rides on Gull Lake,” said TRIAD member John Ostenso of Backus.
“The networking and cooperation is worth its weight in gold,” Burch said.
TRIAD began in 1998 in Cass County and around late 2008 in Crow Wing County.
TRIAD began in 1988 when representatives from the American Association of Retired Persons, The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs Association partnered to keep seniors safe from crime.
Today, TRIAD is a national group with a yearly national convention and yearly state conventions. The 2014 Minnesota TRIAD Conference is being hosted jointly by Cass County, Itasca County and Aitkin County at Cragun's Resort in East Gull Lake.
For more information, contact your local sheriff’s department.
Travis Grimler can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook.