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Alto Al Crimen Report To The Community


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On January 17 Alto al Crimen made a report to the community at the BCP theater. Since there are a few thousand expats in our area and there were only around 75 or 80 people present at the meeting, the purpose of this article is to provide similar information to the rest of the community.


First a quick note about the AAC--Hospital Cooperativo discount medical plan project. We have completed enrollments with more than eighty people participating in the plan. We set up the plan to have an annual open season for enrollments in late December and early January every year. If it appears that demand continues to be steady, and if we have a volunteer to manage the processing of paperwork and collection of payments, we may be able to have other enrollment periods during the year. If that works out, announcements will be made.


We were fortunate to have had Caesar Sherrard at the meeting to share with us the early history of Alto al Crimen and his views about the organization's viability and need for community support.


I think you can understand how important it is for folks who are not fluent in Spanish to have available a bilingual emergency hotline service.  Of course, its main reason for existence is police, fire or medical emergencies, but most people agree that the ability to call if stopped by a police officer or in the case of an accident or breakdown out on a highway or country road somewhere is also very useful and important. 


A major key to our ability to assist people is our database that contains detailed directions to the homes of people who have registered and an easy way to reference them with three digit numbers called Resident Identification Numbers.  Our database can also hold information about medical conditions, pets, insurance companies, etc. 


We're glad to have Christian Tiluma working with us as our Database Manager and Webmaster.  He will be maintaining and improving the database and seeing that the database copy maintained on the computer tablet carried by our AAC Hotline operator, Franc Lugo, is up to date.


In the past, we have conducted home security seminars and made home security inspection visits to people's homes.  Preventing crime is even better than reacting to it.  But since the sudden, unexpected death of our treasurer, Lee Zeltzer, in 2015, we have not been active in these areas, principally because we had much more urgent matters to deal with, such as not being able to access the funds in our bank account, restructuring our board of directors, changing AAC Hotline operators, etc. so that we could continue our hotline operation without interruption. We hope to resume these services when we have more people to share the load.


We have managed not only to maintain our operations but to improve them by adding a second hotline phone number for backup and adding a regularly updated electronic version of our database on a tablet computer for more efficient operation.


So it may seem as though everything has gone really well.  Two old geezers, an old architect--Tom Counter--and an old retired naval officer--Bob Gregory--have made it work, in spite of challenges.  We restructured the board of directors of our foundation only to have some of them withdraw.  One couple moved away from Boquete.  Another person changed his mind about wanting to work with Alto al Crimen.  We found a great new bilingual operator for the hotline and have recently made the transition to a new Database Manager after David van Harn did a great job for us for a few years.


We worked for and got the police check point at the Caldera Road. Some people find stopping a bit inconvenient, but property crimes in Boquete are down, and the check point is not nearly as inconvenient as burglaries or robberies involving personal injuries.


Next, and hopefully with some volunteers to help, we'd like to push for and assist with providing a guard shack with some amenities for the police.


Also we have worked with our Diputada in the Panama Asemblea to support legislation for a youth rehabilitation center to help separate the under-18 youth from the gang environment. $7.5 million dollars have now been allocated for a facility in Chiriqui.


We keep an “ear to the ground” and try to pass the word about any criminal or suspicious activity to the police or to the public, as appropriate.


So it would seem that we are now on a nice smooth road with no problems, right? 


Well, not quite. 


First, we need to expand our board so that we have more people to share the management load and work to provide more and better services to our community.


Let me say there IS enough money for AAC to operate all this year. That's the good news. The bad news is that it's still in your pockets! We need to resolve that little glitch.


That leads me to the second point, and probably the most critical one that we must deal with....


Are you ready for this?  The biggest problem is that the majority of people like FREE STUFF.  If they can slide by without laying out any money, they do.


A foundation is not a business.  Alto al Crimen is organized as a non-profit public service foundation that solicits and operates on donations.  The services we provide have value that is self-evident. 


From the very beginning there were people in our community who quickly saw how valuable Alto al Crimen is and who gladly contributed to its support.  Many people donated $100 per year.  Some gave $500 per year or even $1,000 per year.  We had plenty of money to operate on, but very few people realized that we had very lopsided funding. 


I became a member of the AAC board in January 2014.  That year when we prepared for a presentation to the community like this one, I gathered and analyzed contribution data and made a pie chart to show how things were working.  It was pretty shocking.  We had 596 registered members, and only eleven percent of them had made donations in the past year!


We began trying to figure out a way to increase the participation rate and to even out the donations. 

Then, with Lee Zeltzer's death we had a funding emergency because we could not access our funds in the bank.  A lot of people rose to the challenge and made donations at a rate that allowed us to continue paying our operator, Rodny Fuentes, to keep the hotline running without interruption.


Then, shortly after Lee's death, while AAC was most vulnerable, Rodny was influenced to resign and operate a similar emergency call service as a for-profit business.  It was certainly Rodny's right to do this, and we wished him well.  The price for Rodny's service is $80 per year, a lot more than our suggested donation of $20 to $30.   But eighty dollars per year is an affordable price for a lot of people and actually less than many donors had been giving to AAC.  We have no way to analyze numbers in detail, but it is pretty likely that a good percentage of the people whose donations had been supporting AAC decided to subscribe to Rodny's service. For them it was cheaper. But around 500 people remained with us. We lost a fairly small number of people, but among them were those who had donated the most money.


So, where are we?  Alto al Crimen is operating and able to provide the services people want and need.  It has the ability to grow and become even better.  It is a community service for ALL residents in the Boquete area, including full-time residents, short-term residents, tourists and even local Panamanian residents who may choose to call our Hotline.  BUT IT AIN'T FREE!!


Our absolute minimum budget is around $6,500 per year. With more we can do more.   We pay our operator $500 per month.  That is pretty reasonable considering that he is standing by 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. He provides his own replacement if he needs to be away.  We own a two-SIM telephone and a computer tablet which require maintenance and occasional replacement, and we need to purchase number plaques and other administrative materials.


We have some money in the bank.  If we can get the attention of our folks who are registered with AAC and of the many people, including long time residents and new arrivals, who need our services but maybe don't even know about them, we should be able to fund our operations easily.


It's true that the AAC Hotline and other services are sort of like insurance.  You have to hope you never need them.  But if you do need them you really hope that they will be there.


So, what alternatives do YOU have if AAC should cease to exist? 


First, you can learn good Spanish and make emergency calls directly to the police, bomberos and ambulance services yourself. 


Second, you can be able to give good, clear directions to your home or other location and answer questions in Spanish over the phone, even though you may be sick, excited or under a lot of stress.  I have been here over eight years, speak fairly good Spanish and probably could manage such a challenge, but I would be a lot more comfortable telling Franc Lugo my Resident ID number and what I need.  How about you?


And then there is the option of using Rodny Direct..  But will people who do not donate $20 or $30 per year decide to pay $80?


So, in view of the alternatives, how much is Alto al Crimen service worth to you?  Does it seem to you that twenty or thirty dollars a year is almost nothing?


As many people already know, the AAC Hotline service is available to all, whether or not they have made donations.  But it can only remain available if enough people make donations. In the past few months, donations have been almost negligible.  The best way is for EVERYONE to make a small donation of twenty or thirty dollars per year. though larger donations are gladly received. If you need a good, low-cost medical discount plan, either as a stand-alone or to use with high-deductible insurance, you can choose the AAC—Hospital Cooperativo plan, and it includes an annual donation to AAC.


As the old saying goes, THERE AIN'T NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH.  Somebody always has to pay for the lunch. 


Alto al Crimen operates on a cash basis and does not and cannot have debt.  If we cannot operate with the cash we have, we just don't operate.  We have money in the bank that will allow us to operate for a few more months, and we'll continue to provide services to any and all people who need us as long as we can.  If we run out of money, it's over.


Is this a crisis?  No, not really.  AAC provides very worthwhile, sometimes life-saving, services, but up until around seven years ago, it did not exist.  If it goes away, life will go on, but life will not be quite as safe or quite as convenient as it is with AAC


Those of us who contribute our time and energy to making AAC work want to see it continue and thrive, but we don't control that.  You do---  you and all the many other expats in the Boquete area who have the benefits of AAC services if they are needed.


A surge of donations in response to this report would be great, and we'll be very glad to receive them (via envelopes with your name on them left at Mail Boxes Etc.)  But what we need is very broad understanding of the value of Alto al Crimen and regular donations by large numbers of people.  We have around 500 registrants in our database and a potential for at least 400 or 500 more in our community.  If you see the value of registering and contributing, register now, contribute now, contribute annually and encourage your friends and acquaintances to do the same. You can register at altoalcrimen.info


One more thing.  If you want to make a valuable contribution to the Boquete expat community, please volunteer to work with us.  We need to add some board members, and we need other volunteers to help with publicity, home security inspections, someone with computer skills to back up Christian and others.  If you want to help, please contact Bob Gregory (rhgusn@yandex.com) or Tom Counter (studiotomaspanama@gmail.com)


Boquete is a great place to live, especially when everything is going well.  For those other times, there is Alto al Crimen, and it will be here so long as you want it and support it.

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