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Police, fire marshal recommend precautions for safe holiday

Shopping, parties and Christmas trees are staples of the season but can bring increased risks without the proper precautions.

Local police agencies have combined forces to increase their presence in the retail areas of Westminster to prevent shopping-related offenses, according to Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding.

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The holiday crime prevention patrols consist of officers from Westminster Police as well as members of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and Maryland State Police Westminster Barrack, Spaulding said. Police increase their presence at the TownMall as well as other shopping locations to deter or catch possible shoplifters and other offenders.

This year, Spaulding said the sheriff's office has made one shoplifting arrest. Spaulding attributed the lack of reported incidents, in part, to the increased police presence acting to deter people.

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"Having those officers out there has definitely been helpful," he said.

Police will be patrolling during the evening hours throughout the weekend until Christmas Eve, Spaulding said, during some of the busiest shopping times of the year.

Cpl. Jon Light of the sheriff's office said the days leading up to Christmas are the peak time for the patrol initiative but also cautioned shoppers to take simple steps to avoid becoming the victims of a theft while finishing their last-minute Christmas shopping.

"A lot of crime is crime of opportunity," he said.

The sheriff's office cautioned shoppers to be aware of their surroundings, not leave valuables such as gifts in plain sight in a vehicle and lock doors, according to a news release.

As stores close at about 10 p.m. each night, officers working retail patrols change their focus and begin targeting aggressive and possibly impaired drivers, Spaulding said.

"Every police officer knows that the holidays are a time when drunk driving becomes a greater than usual problem," he said. "We certainly hope people will use good sense as they celebrate the holiday."

Light said the sheriff's office also increases its focus on impaired drivers during the holidays and recommended that people plan ahead before leaving the house if they plan on consuming alcohol, rather than coming up with something on the fly.

An additional danger present during the holiday season is the risk of fire brought by dry Christmas trees and unattended candles.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch said families who choose to use real Christmas trees should be wary of letting the tree go unwatered or having it in the home for too long, both of which create fire hazards.

"It's once a year," he said. "It's something that's out of the routine."

Bouch said a tree should only be in the home for two weeks, after which it becomes too dry. When the needles start falling off, he said, it's time to remove the tree.

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Burning candles left unattended can also create a risk of fire, according to a news release from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

The fire marshal recommends using battery-operated candle lights to avoid fires, according to the release.

Testing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they are working properly is always a good way to increase overall safety and be prepared for fires in the home, Bouch said.

Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email heather.cobun@carrollcountytimes.com.

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