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Police urge awareness during holiday season

The holiday season means festive gatherings with families and friends, the ending of a year and beginning of another and, for many, a time of holy reverence.

For thieves, the holiday season is a time for opportunity, with rows of cars unattended in parking lots while shoppers are inside stores, and homes are empty as people are working, shopping or attending parties.

“There are more people out there shopping and there’s just more opportunity for the criminal that’s out there looking for the easy target,” Sgt. Jason Grouns of the Hawaii Police Department’s Administrative Services Section said Friday.

“Be aware of your surroundings and don’t leave your stuff unattended,” Grouns added. “If you’re out there shopping for the holidays and you’re hitting a lot of stores and you have a lot of packages with you, the thieves are out there and they’re looking for the shopper that’s not paying attention to their surroundings, looking for an opportunity to grab something and run off with it.”

Grouns said opportunistic criminals “may drive around or may be sitting in a car, but it’s not unusual for a thief to be casing out a parking lot looking for someone to take advantage of.”

“Don’t leave anything of value in your vehicle in plain sight. Make sure it’s locked away in the trunk or take it with you,” he said.

The parking lot of a shopping mall or big-box retailer isn’t the only place law-abiding holiday revelers and the gifts they’ve purchased could be at risk. The picture window with the decorated, well-lit Christmas tree — replete with gifts wrapped and tied with ribbons and bows — is an open invitation to an element that doesn’t respect the property of others and is willing to risk arrest for ill-gotten gain.

“I think criminals are aware that there are presents under the tree, and they know that people, families are out shopping and visiting,” Grouns said. “And they may watch a home for the family to leave and take that as an opportunity to enter the home and, unfortunately, take away somebody’s Christmas by taking those presents from them.

“So make sure that you not only lock your vehicle when you walk away from it, but lock up your home nice and tight before you leave your home.”

With the rise of online shopping and attendant home deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service and commercial delivery services such as Federal Express and United Parcel Service comes another type of thief — porch pirates.

“I’m not sure that it’s worse than anywhere else,” Grouns said. “In Hawaii, it’s common for somebody to have a fence around their property, so that does defer the criminal from being that porch pirate. But we do see incidents of packages being taken from homes.”

According to Grouns, vigilance provides the best bet of avoiding victimization. Common-sense tips include removing your car keys from the ignition and taking them with you, locking your vehicle, not hiding a second set of keys in your vehicle and never leaving the car running, even if you’ll be gone for only a minute.

“It all comes down to awareness of your surroundings,” Grouns reiterated.

“Make sure you’re looking out into the area you’re walking out into,” he said. “If at all possible, if you can park your car closer to the store entrance, that would be great. If you’re shopping at night, make sure you park in a well-lit, high-traffic area. Don’t go out with your packages in your hands and try to fish out your keys. Make sure you carry your packages in one hand or take your shopping cart to the car with you. Make sure you have your keys out and ready to open your door, and have a hand free to open the door or the trunk — and if need be, to push off somebody who may come up to you and try to surprise you.”

“If you don’t feel safe going out to your car, if somebody is in the parking lot lingering and they don’t look right, go back into the store, spend a few more moments in the store shopping. And if you absolutely don’t feel safe, go see a store associate. And maybe that associate can have security escort you out to your vehicle or contact police, if need be.”

Police ask the public to report any suspicious activities by calling the police non-emergency line at 935-3311 or Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.

Email John Burnett at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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