Chief John Proctor with the Albany Police Department offered safety and crime prevention tips at a public town hall meeting Saturday. Also giving tips were Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul and Cynthia Battle, Dougherty County Police Chief. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
ALBANY — The holidays are a time when people are out and about for shopping, to visit friends and family. It’s a time when cash and credit cards are flashing. Filled with spirit of the season, many people don’t pay enough attention to where they are or what they doing, and that can make them easy prey for criminals, experts say.
On Saturday at the East Albany Community Center on East Oglethorpe Boulevard, a trio of law enforcement specialists, Chief John Proctor with the Albany Police Department, Dougherty County Sheriff, Kevin Sproul, and Chief Cynthia Battle with the Dougherty County Police Department, offered some tips on how to stay safe and avoid becoming a victim. The event was one of a series of town hall meetings organized by Ward I City Commissioner Jon Howard.
The local top cops agreed that much of staying safe and united with your money is basic common sense and keeping your wits about you.
“Folks become extra vulnerable to criminal activity just by not paying attention,” Proctor said. “this is a time criminals tend to take advantage. During the holiday season people tend to prey on you more.”
Proctor suggested buying inexpensive electrical timers to automatically switch indoor lighting randomly on and off when the house residents are away — to make the house look occupied.
“Be wary of strangers,” Proctor said. “If someone you don’t know offers to rake your yard he may be casing your house And monitor who comes in your home. They may be telling someone what you have in your home or casing it to come back later.”
As an extra safety measure, Proctor suggested those who travel out of town on holidays should call the police department before they go and ask for increased patrols around their house.
“If you want us to, we’ll even walk up and check your door,” Proctor said. “It’s a function of the police department and we don’t get as many requests for that as I think we really ought to.”
If all else fails and your house is burglarized, Proctor says the odds of getting your stolen stuff returned is just about zero — unless the items are clearly and permanently marked, or you keep a record of the serial numbers.
“Most folks don’t identify. We recover a lot of stuff we can’t return because we have no way of knowing who it belongs to,” Proctor said. “Most of it winds up being sold at auction.”
Scam artist are just about everywhere, including the local gas stations, said Sheriff Kevin Sproul.
“After you make the debit card transaction at the gas pump be sure to hit the ‘clear’ button,” Sproul said. “There is technology now where an individual could come behind you, slide another card and trace the information you just put in.”
Sproul said that while the scam could happen at a busy retailer, it’s not nearly so likely as when buying gas. Still, it’s always a good idea to shield your PIN from the eyes of others, Sproul said.
While it’s good to keep from being robbed or cheated during holidays or any time, staying safe is the most important thing. Sproul warns shoppers to pay attention to what those around them are doing.
“If you pull in and see some vehicles around you with people sitting in them, don’t get up and go in right away,” Sproul said. “It could be a team of people waiting for you to exit your vehicle so they can hit you or take your purse. I recommend you put a phone to your ear and talk to someone as you’re going in the store. If something does happen, you can tell the people (you’re taking to) where you are and describe the people coming up to you.”
Sproul warns shoppers to keep their heads up and keep their eyes on their surroundings, rather than on their cell phones. Purses should have shoulder straps and be small enough to be clutched to the body, Sproul said, and if you’re near your car, pressing the “panic button” on your key fob could be a great way to attract attention in an emergency.
A list of holiday safety and theft prevention tips is available at the Albany Police Department, 201 West Oglethorpe Boulevard, Proctor said, or can be received by e-mail. For additional safety information call the APD at (229) 431-2100; The Dougherty County Police Department at (229) 430-6600 or The Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office at (229) 431-2166.