LA PLATA, Md. - The Charles County Sheriffs Office says they will be working hard to protect citizens and businesses during this holiday season by conducting special patrols and assignments and by reminding citizens and businesses of important crime prevention tips.
High school students who participate in the Criminal Justice Program, which is offered by the Sheriffs Office and Charles County Public Schools, and members of Explorers Post 1658 began their Detect and Deter anti-theft initiative on Nov. 28. Both uniformed groups canvass parking lots of malls and shopping centers throughout the holiday season in search of vehicles that could potentially be targeted by thieves because shopping bags, gifts, cell phones and other valuables are in plain view. They place a friendly notice on the windshield of the vehicles to remind drivers of the consequences that can result from this and offer crime prevention information.
High visibility of patrol officers will be a key component of the Sheriffs Offices holiday crime-fighting strategy. Officers assigned to conduct holiday patrols increase the police presence in shopping centers and retail establishments to deter criminals and comfort citizens as they shop.
In recent years, there has been a rash of thefts, assaults, and robberies occur in and around the Charles County mall. Local residents often warn newcomers to the area to avoid the mall for personal safety reasons. Charles County has also seen a substantial number of armed robberies, shootings, vehicle thefts, and carjackings in recent years.
The Sheriffs Office says that their Tactical Response Squad will also play an important role in preventing crime, especially robberies, which historically increase in many jurisdictions during the holiday season. The squad was created in 2005 to address crime trends and other problems and conducts their assignments in cruisers, on bicycles, on foot, in uniform and covertly.
The Sheriffs Office is also offering the following safety tips, and is asking citizens to keep these tips in mind during the holidays and share them with family and friends:
* Stay alert and be aware of whats going on around you.
* Park in a well-lighted space and be sure to lock the car and close the windows.
* Hide shopping bags, gifts and other valuables in the trunk.
* Dont overburden yourself with packages. Make several trips to the car if necessary.
* Keep purses close to your body and keep wallets in a front pants pocket.
* Never carry large amounts of cash or count cash where others can see you.
* Make sure any children you may be shopping with know to go to a store clerk or security guard if you are separated.
* Always keep windows up and doors locked, even at home.
* Dont leave your vehicle running to let it warm up. Vehicle thieves see this as an easy opportunity to steal a vehicle.
* Get an automatic timer for your lights.
* Have mail and newspaper delivery stopped so it wont pile up.
* Have a trusted friend or neighbor keep an eye on your house, shovel snow and park in your driveway from time to time.
* When placing the garbage out for pickup, conceal boxes that contained expensive items otherwise, you could be advertising what you have for burglars.
* If you answer the door for a stranger who is seeking charitable donations, ask for the persons identification and how the funds will be used. If you are not satisfied, you are not obligated to give. Learn more about charitable organizations from the Better Business Bureaus Web site, http://www.give.org.
* Take the opportunity to create or update your home inventory. Take photos or make videos of items, including descriptions and serial numbers. Citizens can also contact a business that will provide this service, such as Southern Maryland Home Inventory. Visit http://www.somdhomeinventory.com for information.
* Remind employees to alert staff and security of unusual behaviors.
* Start and participate in a Business Watch program
* Watch for people hanging around before or after closing time
* Ensure employees are seen and can see at all times.
* Keep window decorations below waist height and/or above head height
* Control the height of shelving units and displays
* Improve the lighting in shadowed areas
* Keep minimal cash on hand at each register
* Make frequent pickup/money drops during the busiest hours
* Place all money in a safe or locked storage cabinet until you are ready to count it out
* Never count cash in front of an audience
* Never make a bank drop after dark
* Alternate times and routes to the bank
* Dont carry a bank bag in the open conceal it in a shopping or grocery bag
* Take someone with you to the bank
Businesses should be sure all their surveillance equipment is always functioning properly because, in the event a robbery or other crime occurs, video provides crucial evidence. Also, be sure your tapes are changed daily and that they are replaced every 30 days. It would also help to place height markers on all doors.
The Sheriffs Office also reminds citizens that if they observe any suspicious activity to report it immediately by calling the La Plata District Station at 301-932-2222, the Waldorf District Station at 301-932-7777 or the Indian Head District Station at 301-743-2222. In an emergency, dial 911. For more information about crime prevention programs, contact the Crime Prevention Unit at 301-609-7942.