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Skepticism over East Tremont Initiative to Fight Crime with Whistles

East Tremont residents have been worrying about the rising crime rates in their neighborhood, but they’re not too thrilled about a new plan for fighting the bad guys: whistles.

On July 27 on the steps of Borough Hall, community board leaders and elected officials — surrounded by cameras and expectant seniors — proudly launched their latest proposal: “Senior Citizens Whistle Blowers Public Safety Initiative.” The program aims to distribute whistles that elderly citizens will blow if they are in danger.

The first set of emerald-colored safety whistles were paid for by the medical group Healthfirst. (JUANITA CEBALLOS/The Bronx Ink)

The medical group Healthfirst paid for the first set of emerald-colored safety whistles that showcase their logo on the strap and the whistle. According to Laura Vialva, Healthfirst public relations manager, “roughly 11,000 whistles have been distributed.” Each whistle cost the company 95 cents.

But residents like Rebecca Alexander, 67, a long-term East Tremont resident, are skeptical. “Are they planning to solve the issues we have with a bunch of whistles?” said Alexander.  “It´s just a waste of time and money. Senior citizens will probably leave the whistles at home when they go out.”

That attitude isn’t the only problem. Yolanda Negron, director of social services at Casella Plaza, a housing facility that is home to over 1,000 seniors, is still waiting for the whistles that Healthfirst promised would give to the senior facility. “We gave them advertisement in exchange for 20 whistles,” said Negron. “It’s not my job to chase them and beg for the whistles they promised. If you start something, you have to finish it.”

When asked about Negrons’ complain, Laura Vialva said that there “has been a delay in the delivery of the whistles.” She said that instead of sending the whistles to directly the senior centers, Healthfirst sends them to the Community Boards. “If they don’t receive the whistles they can contact us or Ivine Galarza, Community Board 6 District Manager,” said Vialva.

Residents like Grayling McGinner, 56, say there wasn’t much publicity for the initiative. “I have not heard anything about it,” she said. “And now that I know, I can say that it has no sense. How are senior citizens supposed to blow a whistle if many of them have asthma and other respiratory diseases?”

Larcenia Walton, Bronx Borough senior services director, said community awareness is critical. “Kids play with whistles all the time,” she said. “If residents don’t associate the sound of a whistle with a senior in danger, this program is simply not going to work.

East Tremont retirees like Grover Fuller, 64, a member of Tremont Community Garden, is suspicious of the Community Board’s motives. “Initiatives of this kind are merely distractions from what is really going on,” he said. “It is just politics, nobody really wants to tackle the problems.”

Hellen Leda, director of Mt. Carmel Senior Citizens Center, agrees with Fuller. “It can be a good initiative as long as it is not a political strategy,” said Leda. “At this stage of the year,  you have to be really skeptical about politicians.”

Ivine Galarza, said that the raising crime rates numbers led her to launch the initiative. “I came up with this program because of all the crime that has been taking place in our community, particularly in the areas surrounding senior citizen buildings,” said Galarza.

Neither Galarza nor officers in the 48th Precinct have heard of a case where a whistle was used by a senior citizen to prevent a crime.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, East BronxComments (0)