’Tis the season that well-meaning police departments issue news releases reminding citizens how to stay safe during the holidays while leaving home, shopping and even walking to their cars.

’Tis the season that well-meaning police departments issue news releases reminding citizens how to stay safe during the holidays while leaving home, shopping and even walking to their cars.

Sure, you can lock your doors and leave a light on and a radio playing as you head to your favorite mall. And you can stop yourself from flashing large sums of cash as you greet cashiers when paying for your holiday bargains.

But what should you do when confronted by someone who is breaking into your car?

“Most of the (suspects) out there aren’t confronting people,” Massillon, Ohio, Police Capt. Joe Herrick said. “They’re looking for open doors. But if you’re confronted, run. Go to a lighted area. Get inside the store. The getaway is the big thing.”

Still, he warned, “The basic ones still apply: Keep your car doors locked when you’re shopping and be aware of who’s around you and what’s going on.”

The holidays mean more than seasonal jobs for department store clerks and mall Santas. They often are associated with an increase in crime.

“Sometimes we’ll see an upward trend in crime around the holidays; some years we don’t,” said Scott Wilson, special agent in the FBI’s Cleveland office. “I think the opportunity is greater during the holidays because people are out shopping, they leave packages in their cars, and things like that where the opportunity for the criminals to commit crimes is greater. ... Certain times of the year, these folks are more desperate.”

Anyone who sees a crime in progress can help police by simply remembering what happens.

Jackson Township, Ohio, Chief Harley Neftzer, whose jurisdiction includes several shopping centers, recommends this: “Remain calm. Get a good physical description looking specifically for the type of clothing, height, weight, hair color and length and anything else that may be descriptive or unusual.”

What if the criminal threatens you with a gun or a knife .... or even a baseball bat?

“If a weapon is involved, don’t become confrontational or excite the individual,” Neftzer said.  “Again, remain calm and try to obtain the best description of the individual and weapon as possible. Watch for how they depart securing a direction of travel and vehicle description, if at all possible.”

Canton Police Lt. Greg Boudreaux said that anyone confronted by someone with a weapon should consider the obvious: “You may want to give up your wallet,” he said.

“You want to avoid any sort of direct confrontation. You don’t know if (a suspect) has a weapon, what his intentions are, if he now wants to assault you. ...  Call the police department, because whatever’s in your car can be replaced. You can’t replace your life.”

Boudreaux also recommends getting a good description of whoever it is that is posing the threat.

Most police officers would agree: The more of a description, the easier it makes their job in nabbing the suspect.

“Ninety-eight percent of people have cell phones these days; get on your cell phone and call the police,” said Alliance, Ohio, Police Detective Jim Jones. “Give the police a very accurate description of who the subject is or what he looks like, what kind of car was broken into and what (the thief is) taking and just stay out of it. Let the police do their job.”

If the criminal makes a quick get-away before police arrive, “get the type of car, the license plate number and direction of travel,” Jones said. “Be as observant as possible and try to remember as much as possible.”

Police officers say it is never a good idea to fight off the criminal.

“If you’re in fear for your personal safety, you can take whatever means is necessary to defend yourself, as long as it’s equal to what’s happening to you,” Jones said. “But by all means, be aware of your surroundings. It’s common sense. If you’re aware of what’s going on around you, you’re less apt to stumble into something bad.

“Just be careful.”

Shopping safety tips

Jackson Township Police Chief Harley Neftzer recommends:

- Even though you are rushed and thinking about a thousand things, stay alert to your surroundings and the people around you.

- Shop before dark if possible. Coordinate shopping trips with a friend if you plan to be out late.

- Park in a well-lighted area. Don’t walk to your car alone if it’s parked in a dark area. Several stores have escorts/security who can help you to your vehicle.

- Lock your car and close your windows, even if you are only going to be gone for a few minutes. Lock your packages and valuables in the trunk. Have your key in hand prior to arriving at your vehicle.

- Wait in busy, well-lit areas for public transportation or rides.

- Teach your children to go to a store clerk and ask for help if you become separated when shopping. Tell children never to go into the parking lot alone.

- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and don’t carry it all in one place. 

- Be extra careful with purses and wallets. Carry your purse tightly under your arm and don’t leave it unattended, even for a minute.

- Try to pre-plan your route.

The Repository (Canton, Ohio)