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Police to holiday shoppers: You better watch out

Black Friday came and went, but holiday shoppers are still out in force.

So are the criminals looking to take advantage of frantic shoppers throughout the valley, according to Las Vegas police.

But the Metropolitan Police Department is bolstering patrols for the holidays to keep an eye on those who aren’t watching out for themselves.

“People are patrolling the streets as much as we are, but for the purpose of committing robberies,” said robbery Sgt. Steve Candelas on Thursday.

Extra officers, both uniformed and not, will be monitoring the valley’s major shopping areas, which are highly targeted areas by would-be thieves, as part of the department’s Holiday Initiative, according to Las Vegas police spokeswoman officer Laura Meltzer. The program runs from Thanksgiving until Christmas Day.

The heavy concentration of shoppers, who are often carrying more money or more expensive products than they would at most times of year, makes the holiday shopping season a “very challenging time” for both police and the public, Meltzer said.

“This is a time of year when our awareness should be heightened,” she said. “People don’t understand how fast things can happen.”

On Thanksgiving, a man was carrying a newly purchased TV to his residence in the 3800 block of Cambridge Street, near Maryland Parkway and Twain Avenue.

The man was confronted by a gunman who fired a warning shot, police said.

The two struggled over the television until the victim was shot by the assailant.

“The victim didn’t plan the whole thing out, knowing his surroundings, knowing how vulnerable he would be,” Candelas said. “He provided the opportunity and availability to commit a crime on him.”

Increased police presence can do only so much to deter theft, Meltzer said. Shoppers must do the rest to make their outings safe.

This, however, is proving to be an issue in the age of smartphone stupor.

Smartphones present a unique challenge for police because they make potential victims easier to target and commit a crime against, Meltzer said.

“You’re usually a bit distracted, trying to prepare for the holidays. People who are distracted present a better opportunity for a crime to occur,” Meltzer said.

“Anytime there’s an opportunity, there is going to be someone who is going to try to take advantage of it,” he said.

So what can shoppers do to stay off the criminals’ radar?

“Always know what’s going on around you,” said Capt. Robert DuVall. “Don’t carry too many packages. You’re just asking for people to follow you.”

Las Vegas police are also urging people to lock their doors, keep keys with them, and hide valuables out of sight, an initiative they call “Lock, Take and Hide.”

“It’s a very easy way of reducing your chances of being a victim,” Meltzer said. “We want to give them the fewest opportunities possible to commit those crimes.”

Specifically, police recommend that shoppers put gifts in the trunk of their vehicles because a trunk lock is more difficult for thieves to break than the standard door lock, DuVall said.

Keeping gifts out of sight of passers-by also applies to presents under the tree.

“Whether in your car or in your house, don’t display your gifts where people can see them,” DuVall said.

Having gifts on display greatly increases your chances of becoming a target to holiday thieves, DuVall added.

Police also recommend breaking down the boxes of anything you’ve purchased or opened, rather than just putting the boxes out for the trash so that others won’t see what kind of new goodies you might have around the house.

“Don’t put yourself in a bad position,” Candelas said.

Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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