As Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District security patrol officer Joan Sammond drove around the parking lot of the Gwinnett Marketfair shopping center Monday, she came across an opportunity to help a stranded motorist.

Nilima Patel, a Cumming-based wedding planner, had been in the shopping center with clients to help them purchase items for a wedding. When Patel got back to her SUV, she discovered it wouldn’t start. She opened the hood, and with her wedding clients assistance she tried to get her vehicle started.

It just so happened that Sammond was doing a patrol in the parking lot and she had a jump start kit in her patrol car. She pulled up and offered assistance to Patel and quickly discovered what might have been part of the problem.

“One of your battery cables is loose,” Sammond told Patel. “I was able to lift it right off the battery.”

Shoppers will be seeing a lot more of Sammond and other Gwinnett Place CID security patrol officers over the next month.

With the holiday season starting later this week, the CID is increasing is security patrols, which are provided through a contract the district has with Paradigm Security, throughout the district. That means more frequent patrols and longer patrol hours.

Gwinnett Place CID Executive Director Joe Allen said the increased patrols are done because more shoppers attracts more people looking to commit crimes of opportunity by stealing from cars in parking lots at Gwinnett Place Mall or the surrounding shopping centers.

“You’ve got more and more people here with it being the holiday shopping season and this is something we have historically done,” Allen said. “We have them throughout the year (but) we ramp it up during the holidays, just like the police do. They have their holiday task force in this area.

“It’s just another set of eyes making certain that everyone is safe while they are out shopping.”

Sammond said this is big time for crime at shopping center because shoppers are buying more items. As a result, criminals tend to watch and wait in anticipation of an opportunity to steal something, she said.

“This time of year is probably like the Super Bowl for bad guys, you know, with people leaving packages in their cars and cell phones charging and stuff like that,” Sammond said. “Somebody sees that and it’s an opportunity for them.”

Sammond said there are several things holiday shoppers can do to prevent the likelihood that they will be the victim of a crime. A couple of tips include shoppers parking in well lit areas and having keys in their hands if they are walking in a parking lot later at night.

The biggest tips she had, though, were for shoppers to pay attention to what’s going on around them and locking valuable and shopping packages in the trunk of their cars.

“There are opportunists lurking and waiting,” Sammond said. “Folks who have too much, too many bags in their hands and not paying attention, not remembering where their car is parked, you know, make themselves more vulnerable for somebody to come up and snatch something out of their hands.”

More than just keeping shoppers safe at the holidays

While the CID highlights its security patrols at the holidays as a way of reminding shoppers to stay safe, the officers are out and about year-round to assist shoppers, business owners and employees at retail shops in the district.

Allen said the patrols have had a positive effect on the area: Crime in the CID is down about 39 percent since the patrols began.

They provide a broad range of services. Some of what they do includes assisting shoppers, like Patel, whose cars break break down in shopping center parking lots or on roadways. They also check for graffiti and street lights that have gone out and report that information to CID officials so they can deal with those issues.

Sammond tried to get Patel’s vehicle jump started, first with the kit in her car and later using jumper cables. she even tried to tighten the cable a little bit with her fingers since she didn’t have a wrench, but it was ultimately to no avail.

Patel said that although they couldn’t get her SUV started, she appreciated Sammond’s help and felt safe leaving her car in the parking lot because she knew the security officer would be patrolling the area and keeping an eye on the stranded vehicle. Security patrols was not something Patel expected to encounter in a shopping center.

“I was surprised to even see her driving around here for this kind of shopping center,” Patel said.

Allen said the people who do the patrols, in effect, act as ambassadors of the CID to the public and business owners by helping to take care of issues that pop up in the district.

“It’s taking care of those ‘broken windows,’ ” Allen said. “If we take care of some of those issues, we make the area that much safer.”

But the security officers do have to deal with their fair share of misbehaving individuals that they come across during their patrols.

Sammond said one of the more memorable, and unusual, experiences she has had as a security officer in the CID came last week when she stopped at a QuikTrip in the district during one of her patrols. It was one of the rare times when she had to call Gwinnett County police to help handle a situation, she said.

“I had to call 9-1-1 on Friday,” Sammond said. “I was at QT and this woman comes running up to me, and she’s like ‘I need your help.’ There was some guy that had gotten in her car that she didn’t know and he wouldn’t get out. He passed out in her car and he wasn’t real responsive. I mean he was out cold.

“So I had to call Gwinnett County to come out and they made him get out.”

On another occasion, Sammond came across a car parked behind a theater late at night. As she pulled up to the vehicle, she realized the windows were steamed up.

“I thought it was a vacant car, and it was not,” she said, leaving the rest of the details up to the listener’s imagination.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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