With parties, shopping, decorating and Santa arriving, the holiday season might find most people preoccupied with gift lists and social schedules, but local law enforcement leaders suggest keeping safety in mind as well.
This includes personal safety as well as protecting property, said Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead.
One of the biggest safety issues around Christmas and New Year’s is driving while intoxicated, he said. In so many words, don’t. “Have a designated driver, and be aware of your intoxication level,” he said. “There is an increase in company parties and social gatherings around the holidays and even if you are not driving,” overindulging in alcoholic beverages can compromise your judgment.
It is always a good idea to keep your mind sharp and alert, but during the busiest shopping season of the year, predators tend to lurk. “Keep a hand free, don’t overload with packages, and be aware of your surroundings,” he said.
A recent robbery and assault trick that has surfaced is people are using zip ties or similar things to tie windshield wipers together. When a driver is preoccupied with removing the ties, a thief or attacker strikes, Broadhead said.
“If you see this, or anything unusual, get in your car, lock it and then look around,” he said. If you see anything suspicious, call police.
Another way criminals play the part of the Grinch is to send emails with links to what appear to be legitimate websites, he said.
“People don’t realize that what looks like a real website actually masks another address.” Once you enter that site, your personal information including bank accounts, may be compromised. Broadhead suggests typing in website addresses yourself instead of clucking on links when shopping online. “Make sure the site you are on is secure.”
It is also important to follow safety tips when home or traveling, said Bulloch County Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Hutchens.
If leaving home for the holidays, call the sheriff’s office and request a house check, he said. “Call 764-1771 and give the dispatcher your address. They will ask you a few questions and our on-duty shift will patrol periodically” to make sure the home appears secure, he said.
Place temporary holds on mail and newspapers, as seeing these stack up can tip off burglars that you are not home. Also, whether you are home or not, “lock your doors,” he said. “If you get out of your car at a convenience store to get a drink or go to the bathroom, don’t leave your car running. Someone could come up and steal your car.”
Although Christmas is celebrated as a time of giving, there are people out there whose main focus is taking, Broadhead said. “Watch out for porch pirates.” There are people who will “drive around and see what is being delivered” and will steal any package they see, regardless of what is inside, he said. The solution is to have packages delivered to your office, or to a trusted friend or neighbor who will be home when the packages is delivered.
Another way thieves target people is checking their trash “If you make a purchase and set the box outside to be picked up with the garbage, they will know you just bought a flat screen TV,” he said. The City of Statesboro will be placing special containers throughout the city, including next to the police station on West Grady Street, where those boxes can be discarded safely, he said.
While many Georgia Southern University students may go home for the holidays, GS police remain on duty to keep the campus safe, said GS public relations director Jennifer Wise.
“University police always patrol campus buildings and residence halls and will continue to do so over the holidays,” she said.
There are things students can do to stay safe as well as protect valuables from theft, she added. “Operation Identification is an engraving service for your valuables to deter thieves and also to prove ownership should the article be stolen and recovered by law enforcement,” she said.. “Engravers are available at Public Safety. An inventory list of all your valuables should also be made by going to (the website) Leads OnLine.”
Students living off-campus can visit the Statesboro Police Department's website and request a “House Watch," for which Statesboro Police Department officers on patrol will check homes and apartments while residents are on vacation or if they have been the victim of a crime, she said. Broadhead reminded residents that the service is available for all city locations.
Wise suggested some tips to keep belongings safe: “Make sure to lock all windows and doors in your home and car whenever you leave. Do not leave valuable items out where they can be seen, such as in the back seat of a car or under a Christmas tree.
“If you are going to be gone for a long period
of time, have someone check on your home while you are away or use light timers,
she said. “Always try to travel with someone…walk in well-lit areas, and scan your surroundings.”
Students can also request an escort from Public Safety. “Break your routine. Take a different route every now and then. Have your keys in your hand so you don’t have to search for them.” It is also a good idea to “Let friends and roommates know where you are going and when to expect you back,” she said. “Don’t stay behind at parties or other events. If your friends are leaving, go with them.”
Call police if anyone looks suspicious or does not belong in your residential area, she said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414