Police offer tips to keep holiday gifts safe

LAWRENCEVILLE - Christmas is a time when Santa, his elves and gingerbread men are often at the forefront of our consciousness. Many concerns that plague us the rest of the year magically melt away like snowflakes on our tongues.

But the grinches are out there, lurking, ready to steal our Christmas spirit and gifts alike.

The Gwinnett County Police Department is offering a few tips to help make sure we have the merriest Christmas possible.

A common mistake, police said, is for shoppers to store recently purchased items, especially large-ticket items like computers and electronics, in their vehicles.

"Criminals will often observe people buying items such as those and watch to see if the shopper stores them in his or her vehicle and goes back to shopping," Gwinnett County Police spokesman Cpl. David Schiralli said. "They will also follow a person to see if they stop somewhere to eat or shop at another store."

Schiralli said those same measures should be taken at home, regardless how safe you think your neighborhood is. Satellite radios, GPS systems, computers, purses and guns are all high on a thief's wish list, he said.

If you withdraw a large amount of money from an ATM or bank, be aware of people and vehicles around you. If you think you are being followed, call 911 and drive to a busy area.

Passersby, evidently, are not the only ones who enjoy the animated sled on your roof, the nativity scene on your lawn or other outdoor displays.

"Keep decorations close to your house and light up the area," Schiralli said. "If you have expensive or sentimental value ornaments, you might want to display them only during the day and bring them in at night."

Here are a few other measures police recommend:

Always activate house alarms, even if you are home.

Do not leave your garage door open, even if you are home.

Be aware of scams and remember, if you think it sounds too good to be true, you're probably right.

Call 911 on any suspicious people or vehicles in your neighborhood. Start a neighborhood watch. Schiralli said most burglaries happen during the day while people are not home.

For the last five or six years, Schiralli said, Gwinnett has had officers working overtime as part of a holiday task force, patrolling the county's malls. He believes this has been effective in deterring crime, but added we can do our part to make sure the only ones going home empty-handed are the crooks.

"Do not give criminals an opportunity to commit a crime," he said.