Local News

Seeking Safety: Protect yourself from crime during holidays

Posted November 30, 2013

Nancy McCleary, The Fayetteville Observer

Chances are good that most of you will be making a trip to a shopping center or mall this holiday season. Based on the crowds along Skibo Road in Fayetteville on Friday, many of you have already been.

Unfortunately, chances also are good that some folks will be looking for easy pickings among you shoppers.

I'm here to help you avoid becoming a statistic. This column, which will run every other Saturday, is part of a year-long project called "Seeking Safety."

Greg Barnes is doing monthly stories examining crime-prevention or reduction programs that are working here and in communities across the country. My column will give you information on how you can stay safe, and how you can get involved in the effort to make the whole community safer.

This week, with a little input from Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock, I've got some tips for a secure holiday shopping experience.

Shop in groups or pairs. Don't shop alone. A would-be thief will think twice about going after three or four people rather than one.

Women, keep your purses close and your money closer. Drape a shoulder-strap purse across your body rather than having it hang from a shoulder. Stash your cash in your pants or jacket pockets, a practice I picked up years ago as a teenager hanging out at the mall. I suggest putting bills in the front pockets of your pants. It's a lot harder to pick a front pocket than a back one.

When paying for a purchase, leave the money clip or wad of bills in your pocket or purse. Try, as closely as possible, to give the clerk the exact amount.

A thief is less likely to target you if he thinks you've just spent your last $20. But showing a thick roll of bills is like writing "Rob Me" in large letters across the front of your shirt.

Hauling all those purchases is no easy task, so a lot of shoppers will venture back to the car and drop some of them off. If you choose to do so, put the bags in the trunk or hide them under the hatchback.

And speaking of your cars, make sure you lock the doors and don't leave valuables in plain sight.

Some years ago, I walked through a department store parking lot with Fayetteville police Detective Jason Sondergaard to see how many shoppers left their vehicles unlocked. I was astounded by how many we found. Not just unlocked, but with purses, GPS devices, iPods, prescription drug bottles and even larger items lying on the seats or in the consoles.

Could you make it any easier for a thief?

You might have an alarm system on your vehicle, but it takes all of 30 seconds for a thief to smash out a window, reach inside and grab whatever is there for the taking. If the vehicle is unlocked, it's even easier.

When leaving the mall, walk out with a group of people rather than alone. That's a good suggestion directly from Chief Medlock. There's strength in numbers and you might just make some new friends.

If you must shop at night, park in a well-lighted area and give a quick glance into the back seat of your vehicle before getting inside. Again, walk out with people, if possible.

If you think someone is following you, just go back inside as quickly as possible. Don't try to get to your car. You cannot get there, unlock the door and get inside before someone can get to you.

If all else fails, drop your packages and run for help. As Medlock says, packages can be replaced. People can't.

Staying safe during any shopping trip is simply a matter of common sense. Be aware of your surroundings. Don't make it easy for a criminal.

Most importantly, if you see someone acting suspiciously, call 911, no matter how unimportant you think it might be. Don't think that you're being a nuisance.

You never know, you might be somebody's hero.

Staff writer Nancy McCleary can be reached at mcclearyn@fayobserver.com or 486-3568.


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