Police offer tips for holiday theft prevention

Because the holiday shopping season is in full swing, from amazon to zulily and infamously packed shopping malls, San Diego police officers have suggestions for keeping your gifts and packages safe.

Captain Mark Hanten, Lt. Robert Daun and Community Relations Officer Larry Hesselgesser attended the Bird Rock Community Council meeting Nov. 3 with some advice for preventing thefts from vehicles, front porches and homes this time of year. The San Diego Police Department non-emergency line is (619) 531-2000.

“As the holidays approach, people will steal packages. These are crimes of opportunity, so don’t give the opportunity,” Daun said. “Try not to make yourself a victim. Thieves are looking for easy targets. In this day and age, you have to lock doors and windows all the time.”

Particularly common during the holiday are thefts from vehicles, Daun added. “A lot of the time, people leave boxes and bags out in the open ... You have to put stuff in the trunk and lock your cars or take it inside. We’ve responded to reports of (thieves) just going up and down the street checking for unlocked cars.”

When leaving shopping malls, Hesselgesser advised you make sure no one is following you, as shoppers always load up their bags in the car but don’t always immediately bring them inside. “It’s generally a good practice to be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “We all have that sixth-sense feeling, so pay attention to that.”

Similarly, while driving home, if you witness a car that appears to be following a delivery truck, call the non-emergency police line, as the motorist might be watching for packages that are dropped off on front porches. Hesselgesser said a thief simply grabbing a package from a doorstop happens during this time of year.

To prevent the theft of deliveries that might be left unattended on a porch all day, Daun advised online shoppers require a signature for deliveries. Should they not be home when the package arrives, the item would then be held at a postal office. “That’s really the best thing,” he said. (Packages can also be delivered to your workplace during the day, if that’s where you’ll be.)

Alternatively, Hesselgesser said shoppers could track deliveries, and have a pick-up arrangement with a neighbor. “If you know you’re not going to be home when that package arrives, have a buddy system set up,” he said. “Let your neighbors know you’re expecting a package at a certain time and have them pick it up for you, and of course, offer to do the same for them.”

Neighbors are the crucial eyes and ears in the event their community is being cased. Burglars typically watch an area to determine when a home has recently received deliveries and might be empty, such as when the occupants are at work. If you suspect someone is casing the neighborhood, Daun said, call the non-emergency number. “It might take a while to get through, but when you get on, we can get officers out there. We might find the (caser) a few blocks down, and even if they aren’t doing anything, we can identify them,” he said. “If there is a robbery in the area later on, we can say we talked to this person at this date and time.”

Hanten added, “This community is very involved and very active, and we need that. We can’t catch what we don’t know about, and you are the ones that tell us what the problems are,” he said.

The Bird Rock Neighborhood Watch chair noted that the way burglars determine whether or not you are home is by knocking on your door or ringing your doorbell. “If you answer, they have some fake reason for being there or say, ‘oh, sorry, I must have the wrong address,’ ” she cautioned. She also said should someone come to your door and you think they might be casing, watch to see if they continue going door-to-door with the scam, and then report it.

Hanten said there is a “huge distinction” between a burglary from an unoccupied house and a robbery with occupants inside. “A burglary is when a thief enters the home not expecting to find anyone, and takes property,” he said. “If someone is going into a house and they know someone is inside, they are much more dangerous. You are extremely vulnerable in your home … it’s a much more significant crime and much more dangerous.” He added if there is someone home and a burglar intrudes, police respond “much more quickly.”

While police officers encourage reporting concerns or suspicious behavior to the non-emergency line, for a crime in progress, they advised calling 911.