Thieves Targeting Holiday Shoppers

22 12 2008

auto_thief1As the last-minute holiday rush kicks into high gear, thieves sometimes aren’t far behind shoppers, police say.

 With the holidays a blur for many shoppers, security patrols have increased at many malls, including Clifton Commons.

“Almost every year, we get someone who was followed home from the shopping center,” said Sgt. William Gibson, head of the Clifton Police Department’s anti-crime unit.

In response, some stores step up their safety measures come December, and North Jersey security companies report good business during the holidays. But police say it’s ultimately up to patrons to protect themselves.

“You have to be aware of your surroundings,” Gibson said.

In Clifton, robberies peaked last year during the holidays. Fifteen robberies took place in December, nearly double the monthly average, said Clifton police Detective Capt. Robert Rowan.

In Paramus last week, thieves broke into more than 20 unlocked cars near Route 17 and stole Christmas presents, including two 32-inch LCD flat screen televisions, a TomTom Global Positioning System and a Louis Vuitton handbag, according to police.

Urban areas without malls see less of a spike in property crimes. Paterson averages about a dozen thefts a week throughout the year, said Paterson police Detective Lt. Anthony Traina. In Passaic, fake checks tend to be the holiday crime of choice, said Passaic police Detective Gabriel Guzman.

The miles of strip malls along Routes 3 and 46 provide a fertile ground for thieves. During the last week of November, Clifton detectives recorded nine burglaries to cars outside Barnes & Noble, Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar and other stores along the highways, police records show. Items taken included purses, laptops, packages and GPS devices.

Large shopping centers tend to step up patrols during the busy shopping season, said Mark Riggio, director of operations for Bowles Corporate Services in Clifton. Clifton Commons on Route 3 east hires additional uniformed security for inside and outside stores, and patrol cars rove the parking lot.

“The management company is very responsible,” said Riggio, who provides security for 80 businesses in New Jersey and New York.

The types of businesses bolstering holiday security has grown through the years, Riggio said. This season, Bowles is providing an armed guard for a North Bergen trucking company.

“Every year, we get special requests,” he said.

Police recommend that shoppers keep their personal bags tightly shut and next to their sides at all times. Packages, GPS devices, laptops and other electronics should be stored in vehicle trunks during shopping trips. If someone suspects they are being followed, call 911 and don’t drive directly home, Gibson said.

“Most of these crimes could have been prevented,” Gibson said.

(News Source: Heather Haddon, Herald News)

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