By YVETTE C. HAMMETT
This is no time to be oblivious to your surroundings. It could cost you in more ways than one, law enforcement officials say.
Make sure all doors and windows are locked, walk with your head up and be alert through parking lots and down sidewalks and don’t turn your house into a burglary invitation by parking presents near the window.
“To me, the most important thing we should focus on is personal safety,” said Major Darrin Barlow of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. “Yes, there are porch pirates and others are factors that occur, but personal safety is paramount because things can be replaced. Your life can’t.”
Stay alert, said Barlow, whose territory is north of the Alafia River up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. “In my opinion, too many people are distracted by their electronic devices. Everywhere I go, I see people looking down at their phones walking through parking lots.
“Not only from a crime standpoint, but from a general safety standpoint, that’s a bad idea. You’re wearing your earbuds or looking at your phone and a distracted driver might run you over because they’re not paying attention, either.”
A person who is obviously aware is less likely to be the victim of a crime, Barlow said. “Our brains are very adapted to finding things that don’t add up. We’ll see if we are alert. You are less likely to be a target when you’re engaged.”
When you are out and about, park in a well-lit area and when walking back to your vehicle, have your keys out, he said.
“Also, don’t carry a large amount of cash on your person to make yourself a target. Pay with debit or credit. You can always cancel your cards, and you’re not out the cash.
“At home, keep all doors and windows locked, and keep the garage door down. First and foremost, for vehicles, too, every time you leave the house, make sure your doors and windows are locked. This time of year, a lot of us are doing Christmas displays in our front yard. Sometimes people will string an extension cord out a window, and the window is just resting on the cord.
Christmas tree placement should be thought out, too, the major said. “I recommend not having them stashed in front of a window where anybody can see it from the street. Your house becomes a target.”
And especially this time of year, forget about “hiding” the spare house key under the mat or under a nearby rock. Thieves know those spots and won’t fail to use them, he said. “None of us are ingenious about hiding keys. Give it to a trusted neighbor, instead.”
For those leaving home for the holidays, put lights and the radio on timers to throw off the crooks. And ask someone to get your mail and newspapers, even to park their second car in your driveway.
Porch package theft definitely picks up this time of year, he said. “If you can arrange a different drop-off time when you are home or coordinate with a friend or trusted neighbor or deliver to your work instead of the house, that is best,” Barlow said.
“Cameras are a deterrent, and they do help us solve crimes. And I’ve seen a couple new items on the forefront. Amazon now has a porch pirate bag, a lockable bag you secure to your door.
“People need a good nudge this time of year. We still have been preaching the message of locking your vehicles. We are going to be in malls and stores. Always lock your doors. I can’t tell you how many people leave their doors unlocked. We’ve had guns, laptops, iPads, all kinds of electronics all stolen out of unlocked cars.”
All else being said, the number one tip Barlow had to offer for the holidays is do not drink alcohol and drive. “We’ve got Uber and all these other resources out there. Enjoy the holidays responsibly and get through them safely.”