Prince George’s County residents hitting the shopping centers this holiday season should have more on their minds than just what’s on the family wish list, according to county police, who are beefing up patrols near stores to deter December crimes of opportunity.
Police said that during the holiday season, particularly from Black Friday in November throughout December, there is more potential for crimes such as robbery and theft. Although county statistics from October through December 2011 showed a marginal 0.5 percent decrease in robberies and 0.5 percent increase in thefts, Lt. Bill Alexander, a county police spokesman, said beefing up patrols is a proactive approach to ensure there is no increase in crime.
Officers are currently patrolling major shopping centers, particularly on weekends and evenings, Alexander said.
“It really entails nothing more than a police presence,” he said. “Often times, you see police cruisers in shopping centers or lights on at night to say, ‘Hey, we’re here’ and put out the message that we’re here to keep people safe.”
He said residents should be observant when getting in and out of their vehicles, and should park in areas that are well-lit.
He also said police encourage residents to keep expensive items kept in vehicles out of sight and only make one trip to and from a store if possible as to not leave recently purchased merchandise in a vehicle unattended.
Alexander said the shopping centers seeing the highest police presence are the ones that are the most populated in the county.
“We follow the crowd at chow time so to speak,” he said, explaining that officers are put into place based on where the majority of shoppers go during the holidays.
The Mall at Prince Georges in Hyattsville, Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo, Woodmore Town Centre in Lanham and Beltway Plaza Mall in Greenbelt are among the focus areas for holiday shopping-related crime prevention, police said.
“We welcome any increase in security whether it be by the city police, the county police or our own mall security, especially at this time of year,” said Victoria Clark, marketing director for The Mall at Prince Georges. “Consumers certainly welcome seeing the increase in security as well.”
Whitney Kelsey of Capitol Heights was Christmas shopping Dec. 7 at the Mall in Prince Georges in Hyattsville and said she always takes precautions when leaving stores, especially if she is shopping alone.
“I keep everything in my purse. I make sure I’m not carrying my phone or anything else in my hands,” she said, showing that her purse was also carrying her purchases from a store. “I think it’s a good thing that [police] are around here. I’ve never experienced anything myself, but I’m sure there are things happening, so people need to be safe.”
She said if she makes any larger purchases this year, she’ll be sure to shop with a group so she is not alone when walking back to her vehicle.
Nell Williams of Suitland was shopping Dec. 7 at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo and said she always shops during the day to avoid being subject to any criminal activity.
“I’m always worried that somebody might be trying to pickpocket me and wondering who’s watching me,” she said. “As long as you shop during reasonable hours, you should be fine.”
She also said she supports an increased police presence around the holidays and said there should also be undercover officers at shopping centers.
Capt. Gregory Scheirer, the assistant commander of the District 2 police station, said there are not specific shopping centers that experience holiday shopping-related crimes more than others. He said crimes such as citizen robberies and theft from automobiles occur wherever there are opportunities.
“Unfortunately, it’s truly a crime of opportunity. If a criminal feels safe, he’s going to do a crime there,” Scheirer said. “... That’s why we try to spread our resources evenly.”
Scheirer said having additional units patrol shopping centers is made possible through officers receiving overtime pay from a county discretionary grant.
“It adds an extra element and truly does make a difference,” he said.