When I was a child, I was glued to the television set every Saturday morning watching cartoons. One of the commercials I fondly remember was a public service announcement series sponsored by the National Crime Prevention Council. It featured McGruff the Crime Dog , an anthropomorphic cartoon bloodhound dressed in a trench coat who kids how to stay away from bad situations. You know, stuff like drugs, situations that make kids feel uncomfortable, and of course the dangers of accepting free candy from strangers. To this day I avoid those free candy dishes at restaurants, thanks to McGruff. McGruff’s catch phrase was “help take a bite out of crime,” and this is the story of how our library does just that. I’d like think Officer McGruff would be proud.
Nothing can be quite as heartbreaking as some unsuspecting person being scammed out of their life savings. The only thing worse is when it happens to someone of retirement age. A person’s life savings can easily be wiped out because of their trusting nature and faith in their fellow person, and a simple scam can easily wreak havoc on someone’s entire life. To further exasperate the problem, the detective work that goes into unraveling such cases is particularly onerous and often times won’t result in prosecution of a perpetrator or result in any financial remediation for the victim(s).
I don’t know about you, but whenever I read one of these scam stories I feel that we get so caught up in the chase and apprehension of criminals that we forget that sometimes the best police work is preventative. A simple warning could have changed the course of events in the victim’s favor. So where does the library come in to play in these series of unfortunate events? Since we naturally excel at providing information and assistance to our community, what better way to way to thwart the bad guys than to educate our citizens on how to avoid scams in the first place?
This is the concept behind one of our most successful library programs aimed at older adults, entitled “Seniors Don’t Be Scammed!” Each quarter the library hosts our local police department for an informational presentation based on the current scams targeting the average retired person. The themes run from the typical distraction-based home burglaries to cybercrimes. I have even learned a few things myself; before the program, I had no idea what a pigeon drop  was, aside from what you might find on your car after a long day at work. The program is so successful that we regularly have attendance between 50 and 100 or more individuals at each hour-long training program.
The police department gets a lot out of the programs as well. They get a chance to field other questions regarding security from the community, network with the public, and be viewed as more approachable and accessible. They of course hope the programs will also make their jobs easier by preventing crime in the first place.
The success of this program is amplified by the fact that we invite local senior service providers to set up tables at each event. This makes the distribution of information and resources doubly successful. In addition to hosting the event, the library has its own booth staffed by cordial library staff members who are ready and willing to assist patrons with our programs and services.
The program is simple and low-cost, yet extremely effective. In this small way, I think our library and our wonderful men and women in blue help “take a bite out of crime.”