Police urge holiday shoppers to stay aware

LAWRENCEVILLE - The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us.

The malls and other stores are packed with Christmas shoppers both day and night, especially on weekends.

With this in mind, local law enforcement urges holiday shoppers to remember that the season brings with it random thefts.

For starters, women out shopping by themselves can be easy targets for crimes like purse-snatching.

"Sometimes women will leave their purse unattented in the shopping cart," said Lilburn police spokesman Tyler Thomas. "They will leave it for just a second, and that's all it takes for someone watching them to snatch their purse."

Thomas said shoppers should always be aware of their surroundings.

Shopping in groups and/or during hours where there are plenty of people around is a good way to stay safe.

Thomas also suggests staying in well-lit areas during the evening hours, and trying to avoid walking through the parking lot alone.

"During the holidays, there are criminals out there that are lurking, looking for their next victim," Thomas said.

Cpl. Darren Moloney, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police Department, said gifts or anything valuable left in plain sight inside vehicles can be fair game to potential thieves.

Gwinnett police see an increase in motor-vehicle burglaries where these valuables are easily accessible, whether the door is locked or not, he said.

And in a growing area like Gwinnett where crime continues to be a problem, the holidays are just another factor to add, Moloney said.

"If you've got a trunk, use it," Moloney said. "And with those high-end yet smaller electronics, you may want to purchase those last so when you purchase them you can get in your car and drive home."

People should also remember that motor-vehicle burglaries can occur when the vehicle is parked at home, so the same advice applies, Moloney said.

The department's holiday task force brings an increase in officer presence at the major malls in the county to help combat holiday crimes, Moloney said.

Extra officers are brought in to pull extra shifts, but this does not take away from regular patrols, he said.

"With increased officer presence, bad guys are more likely to get caught and spend the holidays in jail," he said.

There is the risk of burglaries, whether it's during the holidays or any other day, and no one should leave their home or business without locking up, Moloney said.

But sometimes that isn't enough, as was the case with Jerry Hartley of Lilburn, whose house was burglarized on Dec. 6.

The alleged burglars forced their way into the house by kicking in the front door, he said. His 12-year-old daughter came home that day to find the house ransacked.

"All of our drawers were emptied and tossed about. They were in and out quickly and took between 125 to 150 DVDs, a digital camcorder, a (palm pilot), a digital camera and a Smith & Wesson 30-06 rifle. They also made off with all our jewelry, heirlooms, at least a dozen women's business suits, upwards of six evening gowns and all of our Christmas presents."

Moloney said an alarm system or anything to make a home or business a harder target is a wise investment.

Motion sensors and good upkeep of the property also make a difference, he said.

As for Hartley, he hopes his misfortune will help other county residents realize that this can happen to anyone, anywhere.

"I just want Gwinnett County citizens to come together and watch out for one another. Keep an eye out for suspicious activities," he said.

"Even when you think that you, your family or your home is safe, they aren't," he asserted. "Make sure you do your part to make sure your home and neighborhood are safe. Get to know your neighbors. They may have information that can help in this rash of Christmas 'smash and grabs.'"

If you see anything suspicous in your neighborhood or even in the parking of lot of a local mall or other department store, contact the police immediately.