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May 11, 2013

Area cops: Abductions can happen anywhere

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — This area isn’t immune to abductions, local law enforcement officials said days after three women escaped from a Cleveland, Ohio, home after vanishing about a decade ago. 

“That could happen anywhere at all,’’ Lt. Douglas Brenner of the Oneonta Police Department said Thursday.

But precautions can be taken toward personal safety and safeguarding children and teenagers, area police said, and the public’s eye is not only important in solving crimes but also in acting as a community watchdog.

“If you see something, say something” is a public awareness campaign of the federal Department of Homeland Security to raise public awareness of terrorism, related crimes and the importance of reporting suspicious activities. This week, local law enforcement reiterated the approach in regard to local communities and neighborhoods.

Cleveland police are holding a suspect accused of abducting and holding three women in captivity for about 10 years after they were reported missing by their families. They disappeared separately and were between the ages of 14 and 20 when they vanished. One woman, who has a 6-year-old daughter, escaped Monday and called 911, after which police rescued the two other women.

Craig DuMond, Delaware County’s undersheriff, agreed that abductions are possible locally.

“The one thing I have learned on this job is to never say ‘never’ — anything’s possible, certainly,” DuMond said Thursday. “Now, in today’s world, you can’t take any chances.”

Village police departments may have neighborhood watch programs, he said, but the sheriff’s deputies in rural areas like Delaware County, where law enforcement is spread thin, rely on the public to help identify suspicious activities.

“The community is a significant partner is helping us,” DuMond said. Investigators said the county hasn’t had any abduction cases like the one in Cleveland, but steps can be take to avoid such criminal scenarios, he said.

Residents must be careful about their affiliations, according to DuMond. In regard to children, he said, knowing the whereabouts of minors in detail at all times is crucial for their safety.

Deputies offer two safety-oriented programs — residents may request property checks when they are away, DuMond said, and the Lifesaver program provides a system for elderly residents to contact the sheriff’s office if they need help.

Brenner said a neighborhood watch program started last year to monitor behavior by college students in Center City. But, in general, the Oneonta community’s close-knit character provides a safety net, because members are aware of residents who need to be protected, he said.

However, people need to know that criminals try to fit into normal activities and fly under the radar, Brenner said. Reporting suspicious activities to law enforcement authorities is a critical step in preventing and solving crimes, he said.

“Little details, in fact, can give us a tip,’’ Brenner said.

Capt. James Barnes of Troop C state police in Sidney. Said abductions could happen around here and following good sense precautions, especially in overseeing children and teenagers, can help prevent such crimes.

“We take missing persons cases very seriously,’’ Barnes said. Newly filed reports, he said, and existing lists of missing persons are reviewed daily.

Barnes, who said he didn’t know details about the abduction cases in Cleveland, suggested steps toward safety measures include locking doors at all times, whether at home or not, and avoiding situations of isolation, such as walking home alone at night. Rides with strangers or free rides should be declined, he said.

Regarding children and teenagers, he said, monitoring priorities should include knowing the whereabouts of minor, their schedules and the identities of individuals and groups involved or hosting activities, Barnes said.

“Parents need to hone in on those details,’’ Barnes said.

Anyone concerned about suspicious activity is urged to call law enforcement by dialing 911 or calling local police or the state tips line at 866-SAFENYS, or (866) 723-3697.

“We greatly rely on the public’s help in solving crimes,’’ he said.