The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays generally bring about a great amount of good cheer and joy for most of our citizens. With travel, shopping and gift giving/sending increasing this time of year we will certainly see more people on the roads and at our local businesses. Unfortunately however, this also means that we can expect to see an increase in unscrupulous people out and about in our city, which may translate to increases in certain crimes such as residential and business burglaries, car burglaries, robberies and thefts, especially theft of packages that have been shipped to a residence as well as identity theft and credit/debit card abuse.
Why do we see this increase you may wonder, well it’s really pretty simple, there is an increase in shoppers at businesses, those shoppers drive cars and often go from store to store with merchandise being left in the cars. This creates very fertile ground for thieves, who often times may follow unsuspecting shoppers from store to store waiting to see what they may leave in their car. Thieves are also aware of the fact that many shoppers use credit cards to shop, which is in part why we may see an increase in credit card information being compromised and identity theft cases increase.
Then there is the package thefts, in which thieves simply drive around find packages sitting on doorsteps and simply help themselves to the package. Fortunately legislators recently passed a new law dealing with this type of theft, essentially making it a felony offense with caveats in the law that can increase the offense level if the victims are elderly or there is any identity theft involved. This new law may prove to be helpful; in the old law the offense was basically based off of dollar amount of the item(s) stolen, however the new law is based on the number of victims a suspect steals from, for example if there are less than ten victims it is a state jail felony and that increases all the way up to a first degree felony if there are over fifty victims.
During this time of year citizens will also see an increase in police presence in some of these high traffic areas and busy shopping centers, that increase presence may include marked police vehicles, ATV’S and even Mounted Patrols in certain areas. This is not necessarily an indication that something has happened in the area, it is more of a crime prevention measure we employ to keep our citizens and community safe. With this we also ask our citizens to keep our officers’ safety in mind and slow down or move over a lane if one of our Officers happens to be on a traffic stop, not only because it’s the law but we also want our brothers and sisters in blue to be able to go home and enjoy the holiday with their families as well.
Hopefully all of this doesn’t discourage our citizens from shopping and enjoying the holidays, we just simply ask for our citizens and shoppers to be vigilant. Below are some simple tips to help prevent one from being victimized, while we reinforce these during the holiday season they are actually applicable all year long. Stay safe and Happy Holidays!
• Simply stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. Scan parking lots for people sitting in cars, as there may be criminals looking for a victim. If you see something or someone suspicious, contact the Baytown Police Department and report it.
• Do not leave items in plain view inside your vehicle. Oftentimes thieves will simply pull into a parking lot and get out and start walking through the parking lot looking into vehicles for the perfect opportunity to steal. It takes literally just seconds for a thief to identify a vehicle to target, break into the vehicle and get away with your property.
• Make sure you lock your vehicle. This may sound like a no brainer, but with all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season we sometimes forget. Check and double check that you locked your vehicle before you walk away. If you get half way to the store and can’t remember, take a minute walk back and double check, you may be glad you did.
• Don’t wait until you get to the store to put items in the trunk of your vehicle, whether that’s merchandise, your purse or anything else. While you may think they are safe there, bad guys are very well versed at getting into trunks just like getting inside the vehicle. Also, bad guys will often drive around or sit in parking lots waiting for someone to make this mistake and present an opportunity for them to victimize the citizen.
• If possible, don’t leave one store with merchandise and travel to another store to continue shopping or a restaurant to eat. Criminals look for this and may follow you, wait for you to leave your vehicle and then break into it to steal the merchandise. If you have to do this, be very aware of your surroundings, maybe even drive around the parking lot a few times looking for anything or anyone suspicious before you park.
• Be aware of online scams. Many of us like to do our shopping online to avoid all the crowds and headaches that come with venturing out. Make sure if you do your shopping on line that it is with a credible site. I always recommend not using your debit/ATM card for online purchases. Use a credit card that is not attached to your bank account. Cyber criminals are very good at compromising these sites and stealing identities.
• On the issue of having packages delivered, it is a good idea to have the packages delivered to an address where someone will be there to receive it. A neighbor, a relative’s house or even to your work address, if that’s permissible with the respective employer.
• To go along with cybercrime defense, it is recommended to set up credit card and bankcard accounts with fraud alert through their banks or credit card companies, many financial institutions provide this at no cost. In the event someone compromises your account or there is some type of suspicious activity, the bank or credit card company will notify you to verify the purchases. When you set up the fraud alert, give your cell number as a contact number. This way you do not have to be home to get the notification and these days we almost always have our cell phones with us.
With the increased patrols, during this time of year especially, our citizens will no doubt encounter our officers on traffic stops. I think it’s import to remind our citizens, if they see a patrol vehicle on a traffic stop the law requires other drivers to move over a lane or to slow 20 mph under the posted speed limit in situations where you can’t move over. This would help ensure all of our officers make it home to their loved ones safely for the holidays as well.
Baytown Police Lt. Steve Dorris is with the Criminal Investigations Division.