Officials: Stay safe when out shopping

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thousands of residents will flood shopping venues statewide in observance of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day of the season, and Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams asks potential shoppers to keep one thing in mind.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” he said.

Williams said the motto applies to many aspects of holiday safety, including purses or baggage carried while shopping.

“Larger is not always safer,” he said. “It gives a potential crook a better opportunity to grab. A smaller something that can be clutched is preferable. It is best to keep the purse close to the body and clutched in the arm. If wearing a large coat, then the purse could possibly be placed inside the coat so it is not visible.

“If you are accosted, then I certainly recommend you do not resist,” he added. “If the circumstance presents itself, then it is certainly best to release the property. Not even a small injury is worth maintaining possession of a purse or property. Let them have it.”

Wesley Snodgrass, spokesperson for the Covington County Sheriff’s Office, said shoppers should also be sure to maintain possession of all receipts during and after purchases.

“Protect your information, credit cards and checks,” he said. “Do not leave them unattended and always have the carbon copy destroyed on charges. Be careful not to flash large sums of cash or valuables; most criminals are opportunists. Always keep your receipts for returns and for identification purposes. Report thefts immediately to the appropriate law enforcement agency.”

Williams said residents should always be sure to place purchases and other valuable items out of sight when leaving the vehicle, adding that vehicles should always be parked in a well-lit areas.

“Pull up, park, turn the engine off and take a moment to take in the surroundings before exiting the vehicle,” he said. “Most of the parking areas around here are well lit, but if you are out at night be sure the area you park is well lit.”

Williams added that it is always good to have a partner, most times more than one partner, when shopping.

“Make it an outing,” he said. “Rather than just taking children, try to have at least one more adult. This is important for around here, but it is especially important for citizens who may choose to go to Dothan, Montgomery or Pensacola. These things are certainly more applicable in the larger urban areas than they are here.”

Residents who do have plans to travel out of town for the holidays for shopping or other reasons should make sure family members are left with pertinent information prior to the trip.

“Be sure someone in the family has some idea of where you are going and an estimate of when you are expected to be there,” he said. “Let someone know the approximate time you expect to arrive and make sure you have some means of contacting them in case of an emergency.”

Snodgrass said burglaries traditionally increase during the holiday season and residents should take certain precautions to reduce the likelihood of such an event.

“We will increase residential patrols, but, as always, we need the help of our citizens in combating the criminal element,” he said. “Be mindful of suspicious vehicles and people not normally in your community. Notify dispatch at (334) 427-4911 if you see anything that may be suspicious or criminal. Write down your serial numbers to firearms and electronics and keep the list separate from those items.

“If you are going to be out of town, ask your neighbors to check your home,” he added. “Have a family member you trust pick up your mail. Put your lights on timers and turn on your alarms. Don’t leave keys in your four wheelers and chain them to a large stationary object. If you have guests at your home for social occasions, then be sure you know them.”

Williams said he expects an increased number of scams this holiday seasons and he urged citizens to be wary of offers they may receive in the mail, by e-mail and over the phone.

“With the economy going in the tank everyone is hard pressed,” he said. “Things are tough. Things are tight, but please maintain some common sense. No one is going to send you something for nothing. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”