Seniors sound the whistle to summon help

Seniors carry their new safety whistles to keep criminals away.
Photo by Walter Pofeldt

“You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.” – Lauren Bacall, in “To Have and To Have Not”

And that’s exactly what community groups want the vulnerable senior citizens to do in the Bronx.

East Tremont’s Community Board 6 has widened its Senior Citizens Whistle Blowers Public Safety Initiative, enlisting the help of the borough’s other community boards and medical group Healthfirst to get the word out.

Launched on the steps of Borough Hall July 27, the program arms senior citizens with an emerald-colored safety whistle to be blown if in danger.

“This’ll come in handy,” said Helen Dunbar, 80, of West Farms. “You never know who you might run up on.”

“I hope I don’t have to use it,” said Anita Molina, two years shy of being an official senior citizen, as she draped the whistle-holding lanyard around her neck. Ivine Galarza, Board 6’s district manager, organized the project back in April, doling out whistles to several dozen seniors at Casella Plaza senior housing in West Farms.

“Seniors don’t have the wherewithal to defend themselves,” said Galarza.

With an alarming jump in crime the past few months, Galarza said she felt compelled to expand the program, calling on Healthfirst to supply the whistles, and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and local community boards to support the program.

“You hear a whistle on the street, you’re gonna look,” said Jeremy Warneke, district manager of Community Board 11 in Morris Park.

Eighty-eight year-old Evelyn Shapiro was found bludgeoned to death inside her apartment in the Pelham Houses in his district in June. “If her neighbors knew she had a whistle…they would come out and call the cops.”

Though he would prefer more police presence, Morrisania Community Board 3 district manager John Dudley sees the program as a solid crime-prevention tool.

“The police certainly have to do more,” said Dudley.

Elderly muggings became a major concern within the 48th and 52nd precincts last year when a serial mugger preyed on elderly residents living in housing projects. Police later charged Tyrone Rosado with attacking several aging women in building lobbies.

Law enforcement agencies from as far as Great Britain have relied on whistles to prevent crime.

The NYPD employed a similar program in the 1980s dubbed the “Muggable Mary Program.”

The initiative assigned cops to dress as elderly decoys to catch attempted muggers. Whistles were also distributed to real elderly residents through local precinct community councils.

Galarza has asked community boards to keep the whistles in the hands of seniors, and out of children.

“When people listen to a whistle,” she said, “they need to know it’s serious and not a game.”

The current program is part of a larger program to keep seniors safe, including seminars on public safety and identity theft prevention to be held at senior centers across the Bronx.

Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383 or

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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