During the holiday season, busy people intent on trying to complete their Christmas shopping may fall prey to unscrupulous criminals who skulk in mall and shopping center parking lots, doing their "shopping" from the packages placed in parked vehicles. Some foresight and planning can reduce the chances of becoming a victim during a season that should be a joyous and loving celebration.
Whenever possible try to shop with another individual especially after dark. You greatly reduce the chance of becoming a victim while shopping in pairs or even a group. When shopping, look for the best lit parking spaces.
Once in your chosen space, look around before leaving your car. Is there anyone in the vicinity watching you? Do you see anyone loitering? If so, remain in your car and watch them for a moment. If they move on, that's fine, but if not, you might consider moving to a new parking space. If you feel uncertain or unsafe about a situation you observe, take steps to move yourself to a safer location. Don't assume you are being foolish or paranoid.
Once you are in a safer location, lock your vehicle and move quickly and confidently to the store. Would-be thieves and robbers are looking for the easiest targets. If you show that you are aware of what is happening around you and move with a sense of purpose, you are less likely to become a victim. Walk against the flow of traffic.
Keep your head up and scanning -- look forward, to the right and left, and even check behind as you walk. Awareness is your greatest defense. Don't search through a purse or bags in the parking lot. If you must look for something, make sure you are in the safety of the store before you become absorbed in your hunt for a tissue, shopping list, or other item.
If you store items in your vehicle, make sure they are covered or concealed. If you are putting bags in your vehicle and returning to shop, move your car from time to time in case someone is watching you.
Finally, if leaving late from a shopping mall or store, don't hesitate to ask a store employee for help. Don't accept the kind offer of the "stranger" who meets you outside the door and offers assistance. It may be a kind and generous offer, but it could also be a ploy to gain access to your belongings.
For further tips or if the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office can be of any assistance, please call (229) 430-6508 or (229) 431-3222. Be aware, stay safe, and have a joyous and wonderful Christmas!
Sheriff Kevin Sproul is a longtime resident of Dougherty County. He is a graduate of Albany High School, Darton College and LaGrange College of Albany. Sheriff Sproul has been employed with the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office for 28 years and can be reached at (229) 430-6508.