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Santa gives, robbers take

Philly cops offer holiday crime prevention tips

Tis the season to be jolly, as the song goes. But for armed robbers, burglars, pickpockets, purse snatchers and con artists, it’s open season – on you.

December has always been a peak month for crime. Criminals like the holiday season, but not for any spiritual or sentimental reason. It’s simply a time of grand opportunity.

This year, with murders and other crimes on the rise, shoppers and revelers should be especially cautious, despite the claims of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Krasner said, “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness, we don’t have a crisis of crime, we don’t have a crisis of violence.” But I doubt that the many victims of crime and the families of the more than 524 people murdered here this year (as of Dec. 10) are buying that.

Krasner later walked back his much-criticized and much-ridiculed statement, claiming that he was taking responsibility for being “inarticulate.” Yet he could still not resist blaming others, as he does for the rise in crime, noting that his words were edited to “sound bites” by the media.

Over the years that I’ve been covering the crime beat, a good number of Philly cops have offered me advice on how one can avoid becoming a crime victim, especially during the holiday season.“There are some unscrupulous people out there and they go to work every day, like us, but their occupation is thievery,” I recall one officer telling me a few years ago.

He said the most frequent crime involves parked cars. He said that when people park their cars, they should not leave camera bags, coats, and other personal articles in their parked car, as this was an invitation to a would-be-thief.

“Don’t carry large sums of money and don’t go alone to a bank ATM machine and take out large sums at night on a dark street,” he added.

Another officer told me that during the holiday season there is always a rise in theft and pickpockets. He said that men should never keep their wallet in their back pocket. It is better to have the wallet in the breast pocket of a shirt or jacket.

“While carrying presents in a crowded store or elevator, someone might bump into you or drop something in front of you,” the officer explained. “Be aware that the crooks work in teams, generally a male and a female, or two males. One tries to distract you, while the other tries to get your wallet or belongings.”

A detective told me that people should be leery when someone calls, emails or comes to your door asking for charitable donations. He said that crooks will take advantage of your good cheer and holiday generosity to start a charity exclusively for themselves. He suggested that people give only to charity organizations they know.

One officer told me that one should try to avoid going out at night alone, especially during the holiday season. But if one has to, walk in lit areas and in the center of the sidewalk where someone can’t jump out and attack.

“Criminals are basically cowards and opportunists,” the officer said. “As cowards, their victims are almost always senior citizens and women – people they perceive as being unable to fight back. As opportunists, they are constantly on the prowl, looking for a door with a flimsy lock or someone casually swinging a handbag on one finger.”

Be alert and aware of your surroundings, the officer advised. Like a shark, the thief and purse snatcher will often pass you at least once. Proper body language is important, as you’re less likely to be attacked if you have a confident air about you.

“To protect your home while you’re out shopping, use anti-crime measures that create noise and light, as they are the best deterrents,” the officer explained. “An audible alarm or a good barking dog will send the common thief running.”

Try to park your car in a well-lit area, another officer advised.

“When returning to your car, have your keys in your hand, so you don’t appear vulnerable as you dig in your purse or pocket for the keys.”

He further advised that one not carry or flash a lot of cash at stores. He suggested that shoppers use a credit card. He also suggested that one carry a purse tightly under an arm, or under the coat. And never lay the purse down on a counter, not even for a second.

“Remember, just as you go to your place of work to do your job the criminal’s job is to go out and steal,” the officer said.

Enjoy this holiday season, but remember, for robbers, it’s hunting season.

Paul Davis’ Crime Beat appears here each week. He can be contacted via pauldavisoncrime.com.

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    • Paul Davis

      Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in Philadelphia for many years, Paul Davis has covered organized crime, cybercrime, street crime, white collar crime, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. He can be reached at pauldavisoncrime.com

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