As Black Friday and the Christmas holiday season approaches, the Jasper Police Department is urging residents and shoppers to be careful as they drive, shop and even as they plan at home.
Traffic officer Richard Hobbs said while driving through the traffic, his advice is simple — although he noted even he has to concentrate and think about his own advice at times as he gets older.
"Be alert on situational awareness, and be polite," he said. "If you can do those two things, you are likely not to have a collision. And when you get to the store, as far as your personal safety, be alert and be polite."
As for packages in the car, Police Chief J.C. Poe suggested shoppers put the packages in their trunks, or, if they are in an SUV, put them in the back and cover them up "so people can't look through the windows and see what's in there when they are still shopping."
Poe said, "Definitely don't leave purses or electronics in plain view. And be sure to lock your vehicle up. We have a lot of people who won't lock their vehicle, and they just forget to."
Poe urged to pay attention to situational awareness when you walk to and from your car.
"Have your head up, not looking at your cell phone, making sure who is around you and what is around you. Have your keys in your hands," he said. "Get to your car, get in it and get it locked up."
If shopping at night, Poe said to also make sure to park in a well-lit area.
"The closer you can park to the store, the better, because there may be areas the security cameras won't pick up as well," he said. "That is only going to help us try to solve the incident. They need to be in well-lit areas.
"Like I said, get out of your car and get inside. And if you can shop with somebody at night, that's the best thing. Don't go alone. It is the same thing as walking and jogging; don't do it alone."
If credit or debit cards are to be used, Poe advised to swipe and insert, and then put away the card, concealing the card and pin numbers. When getting them out of handbag or wallet, don't hold the card so others can see what type of card you have.
"Somebody nearby may be looking at you," he said. "Just kind of conceal that."
Poe said it is an individual choice on carrying mace for protection.
"They have to be determined that they will use it or be willing to use it," he said. "That is like carrying a firearm. You have no business carrying a firearm if you are not capable of using it to defend yourself."
As for what the department intends to do this season, Poe said officers have taken all their vacations by now. With better staffing, patrols will be increased.
"For the Thanksgiving shopping, which is not as great as it used to be, and also during Christmas, we have more patrols in the parking lots, as well as in downtown," Poe said. "We have more officers walking. We talked with our patrol captain this morning in a meeting to get that started.
"So we will have an officer walking downtown, in and out of the businesses and being seen for preventative measures" during the holiday season, again as no officers are on vacation. Beat officers will also be more in and out of the businesses.
"It won't eliminate all crime," he said. "We still have people who are foolish. We will go to Walmart two or three times a day. They will catch shoplifters up there and we will bring them down and book them, and they have to go to court. You would think after a while they would learn. Chances are you will get caught if you go up there and do that."
He said he did not want shoppers to be scared, but he mainly wants them to be award of what is going on around them and to shop in numbers, which will still allow them to enjoy the Jasper shopping experience.
Assistant Police Chief Paul Tucker also encouraged people to lock doors of the vehicle when they get back home from shopping.
Poe added, "People have a sense of security in their driveways and they leave their doors unlocked, then somebody will talk by and see the opportunity" to steal anything still left in the vehicle.
"The big thing is to watch out for your neighbor and your neighbor's house. If you see something strange, most of our break-ins happen at the daytime when people are working or at school. If they will watch out for their neighbor's house and see something strange, give us a call."
He said break-ins happen more during the holidays to get gifts laying around.
"We've had people get their whole Christmas wiped out," he said, saying people should be sure to lock up their homes. "If they can afford it, have an alarm system," he said. Tucker said it could just make noise and still be useful.
Poe said, "The ones that are through some of the reputable companies, you can get a discount on your insurance, because it is hooked up with smoke and fire alarms in it. You get the full benefit with your insurance coverage. I do on mine."
Tucker said exterior lighting is also beneficial to homeowners for security.