Christmas Crimes: The safest places to go shopping

Christmas Crimes: The safest places to shop

SAN ANTONIO - Black Friday is days away.

But before you hit the stores to catch some holiday deals, KENS 5 did some research.

Where are the safest malls and shopping centers to go shopping in San Antonio, and which ones are more prone to crime?

KENS 5 compiled a naughty and nice list.

"A criminal who is a predator, they're like a coyote. What they're going to do is they're going to look for the weakest animal in the herd or out there," said Michael Harrison, Branch Manager at Guard Texas of San Antonio.

Guard Texas provides security for Wonderland of the Americas mall.

10,000 people come through Wonderland of the Americas on Black Friday - double the number of usual customers.

“Some of the things we worry about most during the holiday season are purse snatchings or people stealing wallets or people stealing your bags of gifts that you have bought," said Harrison.

From November 1, 2015, to January 31st of this year, Wonderland saw 20 burglaries and thefts. That's according to the Balcones Heights Police Department.

For customer safety, security guards patrol inside and outside the mall. There are also multiple cameras throughout the property.

"What we are watching for are people circling, or what we call 'sharking', the parking lots," said Harrison. "Generally, they'll have two people in their vehicle."

Last holiday season, SAPD says Ingram Park Mall reported a total of 162 thefts and burglaries. North Star Mall reported 108 and South Park Mall reported 103. Those three mall locations had the highest number of thefts and burglaries in San Antonio between November 2015 and January 31, 2016.

During the same time period, The Shops at La Cantera had 62 thefts and burglaries, the Shops at Rivercenter had 49, Rolling Oaks Mall and Alamo Quarry Market had 42 and Huebner Oaks had 21.

The safest place we found to shop was The Rim shopping center, which reported only three thefts.

"We had a high one year of 18 when we first started, and we said, 'This is a problem,'" said Lieutenant Matt Malone of the Live Oak Police Department.

In 2009, the Live Oak Police Department launched the “No Grinch Zone” to cut down on holiday crime. Officers focus on The Forum and strip malls nearby - the hot spots for shoppers during the holidays.

"They're running around, they're putting packages in their cars, they're going to other stores and by doing that they really make themselves potential victims to theft," said Malone.

Since the ‘No Grinch Zone’ operation began, there's been a dramatic decrease in vehicle burglaries and thefts.

"In 2014, we had zero vehicle burglaries," said Malone. "The only thefts we had were shoplifting thefts where we actually stopped, caught and arrested folks."

With thousands flocking to local shopping centers this weekend, police can’t be everywhere.

That’s where The Live Oak Citizens on Patrol comes in. These volunteers serve as an extra set of eyes for police.

"If the bad guy sees us, they're gonna go away. We don't care where they go, as long as they go away," said Terry Fitzgerald, a member of Live Oak Citizens Assisting Police.

Citizens on Patrol has 40 members looking out for crime.

To better protect your purchases, police recommend hiding all valuables inside your car and out of sight for criminals. If you can hide everything in your trunk, that can also help deter thieves.

Harrison recommends a crossbody bag and a throw-away wallet, should a criminal try and snatch your money. The throw-away wallet would contain a few dollars and fake pictures and outdated gift cards to hand criminals instead of a real wallet.

Administrators at North Star Mall, Ingram Park Mall, the Shops at La Cantera and South Park Mall declined our request for comment at the risk of discussing safety protocol.

Ingram Park Mall offered the following safety tips:

1.      When parking, lock your car and take your keys with you.
 
2.      Do not leave valuables in plain view in your car.  Lock valuables and all packages in the trunk.
 
3.      When shopping after dark, ask a friend or family member to accompany you.
 
4.      Park in a well-lit area.  Make note of where your car is parked and what mall entrance you use.
 
5.      Have your keys ready in your hand when leaving the shopping center to return to your car.
 
6.      Look inside and under your car before getting inside.  Lock your doors promptly.
 
7.      Keep valuables and money in a pocket or small purse with a strap that can be worn across your body.
 
8.      Keep your purse closed and secured.  Do not put it down anywhere.
 
9.      Be discreet when paying for merchandise if you are carrying a large sum of cash.
 
10.  Stay alert to what is happening around you.  If you notice anything that appears suspicious, report it immediately to mall security or a store employee.

Overwhelmingly, the best piece of advice from police and safety experts, always be aware of your surroundings to stay safe this holiday shopping season.

(© 2016 KENS)


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