Whitestown police launch program to help stranded travelers, protect against scammers

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WHITESTOWN, Ind. – Whitestown police officials are starting a new program to offer help to those in need, while protecting citizens against scam artists.

Starting this week, Whitestown officers will have access to $25 Visa gift cards as part of the E.R.I.K.A Cards program. The name stands for Emergency Response In Kindness Assistance, and resulted from an incident involving Whitestown resident Erika Shepherd.

A couple months ago, Shepherd says she was shopping at Meijer when a woman approached her.

“This lady walked up to me and she looked really distressed, and she was just kind of begging for money,” Shephard said.

Shephard says the woman told her that her boyfriend had left her and she was trying to get to Kentucky to visit family.

“It kind of pulls on your heart because you want to help people,” Shephard said.

But after Shephard told the woman she didn’t have any cash on her, the conversation made her uncomfortable.

“She said she could ride with me to an ATM and at that point I did not want her in my car, I knew that for sure,” she said.

Shephard’s father works on the town police board and heard about Erika’s encounter. Several conversations developed into the new program, which is designed to allow police to investigate situations where a person claims to be stranded or in need.

“The last thing we want you to do is be in a position where you’re pulling out cash money because the potential is always there for something to go awry,” said Whitestown Police Chief Dennis Anderson.

Under the program, if a resident sees somebody stranded on the side of the road or asking for money in a public place, they can call the Whitestown police non-emergency number at (317) 482-1412.

“Notify the dispatcher of what you’ve observed, where their location is, a description of the vehicle or the person, and they’ll send one of our officers out to investigate,” Anderson said.

If an officer determines the person is legitimate need of help, the $25 card can be used to purchase gasoline or some other form of help. Officers investigating the situation will check the person’s identification and request approval from a police supervisor before administering the gift card. A record of IDs collected under the program will be kept on file, Anderson said.

Whitestown police will have access to $500 worth of gift cards, which are paid for by a private donation, Anderson said. The chief hopes it will allow public safety officials to simultaneously serve as help for those in need, and protection against those who are up to no good.

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