Police in Carroll County are stepping up patrols of malls, major retailers and other business centers in an attempt to deter criminals targeting Christmas shoppers.
"It's sad. There are people who buy for Christmas and people who steal for Christmas," said Carroll County Sheriff's Office spokesman Maj. Thomas Long.
The high volume of Christmas shoppers presents plenty of opportunities for criminals, Long said. The bustle of the peak shopping season gives thieves a convenient cover for their criminal activities.
Although authorities do not have statistics on seasonal crime, they said that thefts and burglaries are more common at this time of year.
Long said seven sheriff's deputies and 15 Maryland state troopers from the Westminster barracks are working undercover in stores and patrolling lots in marked cars and uniforms.
Every year, he said, extra patrols come out for the two weeks before Christmas.
"We're trying to take away the opportunities for crime," Long said.
He said that people who leave their cars unlocked are at the mercy of opportunistic burglars, but those who lock their doors can be just as vulnerable.
"Leaving packages in the car is like advertising you have items of value in your vehicle," Long said. "If you have a car with a trunk, keep your packages there: out of sight, out of mind."
Sometimes shoppers leave themselves open to identity theft by not paying attention to their surroundings, he said. The officers will be on the lookout for people trying to steal bank card numbers from customers using standalone ATMs.
Because of all the package juggling some shoppers are doing, some may get careless and leave their purses behind, he said.
State police 1st Sgt. Gail Treglia of the Westminster barracks, who is coordinating the troopers in the annual program, reminded women not to leave their handbags unattended.
"Some women like to put their purse in a cart and go look for something," Treglia said. "When they do that, there are people in grocery stores who will snatch the wallet and leave the purse."
The purpose of the increased patrols is to be as visible a deterrent as possible, she said.
The program focuses on high-traffic areas, especially in Eldersburg and Westminster and along Route 140. The busiest area, she said, is Liberty Road in South Carroll, which is home to several strip malls and high-volume stores.
Bike patrols are augmenting the crime-prevention efforts.
Westminster police are also increasing their numbers at retail shops within city limits.