My Crime Beat column below originally appeared in the South Philadelphia American in 1998:
As shoppers, tourists and families are enjoying the Christmas season, burglars, pickpockets, purse snatchers, armed robbers and con artists are on the prowl.
Over the years, I’ve covered a good number of business, civic and community meetings. At one such meeting, I heard Tim Fanning, a Philadelphia Police Officer who serves as the 1st District’s Community Relations Officer.
I asked the veteran officer if he had any good holiday crime prevention tips that he could pass on.
“Criminals are basically cowards and opportunists,” Fanning said. “As cowards, their victims are almost always senior citizens and women – people they perceive as being unable to fight back.
“As opportunists, they are constantly on the prowl, looking for a door with a flimsy lock or someone casually swinging a handbag on one finger.”
Fanning said you should try to avoid going out at night alone, especially during the holiday season. But if you have to, walk in lit areas and in the center of the sidewalk where someone can’t jump out and grab you.
Be alert and aware of your surroundings, Fanning advised. Like a shark, the thief and purse snatcher will often pass you at least once. Proper body language is important, as you’re less likely to be attacked if you have a confident air about you.
“To protect your home while you’re out shopping, use anti-crime measures that create noise and light, as they are the best deterrents,” Fanning explained. “An audible alarm or a good barking dog will send the common thief running.”
I’d add some useful common-sense tips, such as park your car in a well-lighted area when out shopping. Lock your car and close your windows, if you only plant to be gone for a moment.
Put your packages in the trunk of your car and not on the back seat where it is visible to a thief. When returning to your car have your keys in your hand, so you don’t appear vulnerable as you dig in your purse or pocket for the keys.
Don’t carry a lot of cash. Use a credit card. Carry your purse tightly under your arm, or under your coat, and never lay in down on a counter, even for a second.
While you’re out shopping, the anti-Santa will go out your chimney (or door) with a sack of your gifts, and not the traditional way Santa does it. Don’t have gifts visible through your house windows when you’re out.
Mark all your appliances with a unique identification number. If your TV and other appliances are stolen, these numbers will help the police in recovering them.
Be cautious when someone comes to the door and asks for charitable donations. Crooks will take advantage of your Christmas generosity to start a charity exclusively for themselves. Give to charity organizations you know, like your church.
You should also be cautious of public utility or delivery people who come to your door. Ask to see some ID and tell them you are calling their organizations to verify their identities. See if they take off faster than Santa’s reindeers.
Trust your instincts at all times.
“Remember, just as you go to your place of work to do your job the criminal’s job is to go out and steal,” Fanning said.
And criminals certainly don’t take a Christmas vacation, I might add.