Friday, December 6, 2019

My Crime Beat Column: Tis The Season - For Crime. Philadelphia Police Officer Offers Holiday Season Crime Prevention Tips


My Crime Beat column below appeared originally in the South Philadelphia American back in December of 1997:

Tis the season to be jolly, as the song goes. But for burglars, pickpockets, purse snatchers, shoplifters and con artists, it’s open season – on you.

December is a peak month for crime. Criminals like the holiday season, but not for any spiritual or sentimental reason. It’s simply a time of grand opportunity.

I paid a visit to the 9th Philadelphia Police District and spoke to Officer Val Izzo, a 26-year veteran who serves on District Captain Len Ditchkofsky’s staff. I asked what one could do to avoid becoming a crime victim during this otherwise jolly time.

“There are some unscrupulous people out there and they go to work every day, just like you and I, but their occupation is thievery,” Izzo said. “Our biggest problem is, by far, crimes against property – mostly automobiles. Captain Ditchkofsky has taken several major initiatives. We have targeted areas and placed thousands of brochures, which were donated to us at no cost to the taxpayer, on every car window.”

Izzo said on one side is a list of tips to prevent your car from being stolen and on the other side are tips to prevent your car from being broken into. Izzo said they have also placed stickers on parking meters that warn the people parking, many of whom are tourists, not to leave their camera bags, coats, and other personal articles in the car. Izzo said this is an invitation to a would-be-thief.

“We don’t want to alarm people, because this is a safe city, but we want precautions to be taken,” Izzo said.

Izzo said to avoid being a target you should have a plan.

“Don’t carry large sums of money and don’t go to a bank machine and take out large sums,” Izzo advised. “All banks have colored slips and the bad guy will find out which one is the withdrawal from savings, because people take more money out of savings than checking.”

Izzo said criminals with a “spotter” in the bank will see the yellow slip and know who to target. Izzo advises shoppers to use a credit card.

“Ladies carry their whole lives in those handbags,” Izzo said. “Try to avoid that. Carry a credit card, car keys and your make up bag in a fanny pack around your waist. They are hard to take off and it lets the bad guy know you are not an easy target.”

Izzo said most shoppers will park their car, shop, bring out gifts and put them in the trunk of their car, and go back to do another round of shopping, Izzo recommends that after you place your packages in the trunk, move your car to another location. If a criminal is watching, he’ll think you are going home.

In Center City Philadelphia most parking lots are secure, but you should ask the attendant if they have security when you return. Izzo said to travel on lighted streets with lots of traffic and familiarize yourself with the area. And don’t walk close to the building line; walk in the center of the sidewalk. 

“People ask me what they should carry for self-defense, like mace and pepper spray. These devices are only good if they are available to you and you are ready to use them,” Izzo said. “If you’re not, don’t buy them. The best weapon is your voice. You can scream loud and long.”

Izzo said that around the holiday season there is a rise in theft and pickpockets. A man should never keep his wallet in his back pocket. He should put the wallet in his front breast pocket.

“In a crowded store or elevator while carrying presents, someone may bump into you or drop something in front of you. Be aware that the bad guys work in teams, generally a male and a female, or two males. They try to distract you to get your wallet or belongings.”

Izzo said that while traveling on trains and buses, riders lay their packages on the seat next to them. Someone falls off of a seat and this gets your attention. You’ll discover later that something in your bag is gone. Izzo said to carry a bag that closes and keep it between your knees. If you’re driving, keep the window shut and the door locked. Don’t keep your handbag on the seat next to you because a criminal standing on a corner will see the handbag, smash the window and grab the bag. Place the handbag between your knees or underneath the floor mat. If you have to carry a handbag, carry it under your coat, Izzo advised.

Because of the large influx of visitors this time of year, hotels, offices and stores boost up their security, Izzo said. Izzo said the police know all the heads of security and they share information. 

“Captain Ditchkofsky attends the monthly meetings of the Buildings Owners and Managers’ Association (BOMA) of Philadelphia, “Izzo said. “We interact and talk about the different crimes and the security departments paly tapes that show us how criminals are using new techniques.

“The real crime fighters and crime prevention people are the average citizens. If you see something, call 911,” Izzo concluded.  

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