Holiday shopping, family vacations and late-night parties are all part of the holiday season that begins before Thanksgiving and extends beyond the New Year. Unfortunately, a rise in crime also seems to be a part of the holidays.
“We’ve seen a recent increase in residential and commercial break-ins in the downtown area,” Hinesville Police Chief George Stagmeier said. “We’re also seeing an increase in car break-ins.”
He described many of the car break-ins as “smash-and-grab” situations where someone left something of value in the car that can be seen through the window. Also, sometimes vehicles are left unlocked because the owners only plan to be gone a few minutes. Car break-ins are as common in residential areas as they are in commercial parking lots, he said.
Stagmeier said the city usually averages 30-35 burglaries each month. He said September and October saw 28 and 26 burglaries, respectively, but November jumped to 43. Only two weeks into December, he predicts this month’s number will exceed last month.
Items stolen from cars can be as small as loose change left in a console tray, but the police chief said the items of choice taken from apartments and homes are flatscreen televisions and electronic devices. Some homes are entered by prying open a door or window, but most often someone will kick in a back door.
Sometimes a stolen item will wind up in a pawn shop here or in one of the surrounding counties. Stagmeier said his department works with local pawn-shop dealers and other law-enforcement departments to account for stolen property. However, he said most homeowners don’t keep a list of serial numbers on their valuable items.
“We advise folks to keep a list of serial numbers on high-dollar items,” he said. “It also helps to take pictures of jewelry and have some proof of its appraised value. This gives us something to work with (if they’re taken).”
Stagmeier said most items reported stolen during burglaries rarely are found in pawn shops, indicating the thieves have their own sources on the streets.
In addition to an increase in burglaries and vehicle break-ins, he said it’s not uncommon to see an increase in shoplifting, domestic violence and bar fights during the holidays. These increases are typical for the holiday season, he said, which is why people should be more vigilant this time of year.
“Overall though, I’d have to say most crimes are down (in Hinesville) this year,” he said. “Armed robbery is down 10 percent, arson is down 25 percent, burglary is down 20 percent, sexual assault is down 3 percent and homicide is down 50 percent.”
Capt. David Edwards, training officer for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, agrees that crime tends to increase during the holidays. He also said it’s wise for people in the community to be more aware of crime risks.
“We want people to have a good time and celebrate the holidays, but we also want them to be safe,” Edwards said. “If you leave something valuable in your car, it’s an invitation for a break-in. Take that temptation away by taking your valuables with you.”
He said quite often people are so focused on their holiday shopping, they’re unaware of their surroundings. They carry loads of bags and stacks of packages to their cars in dimly lit parking lots. While they’re struggling to get their keys, they’re attacked.
Edwards tells people to have their keys in hand before they leave the store and look around the car for anyone who seems suspicious. He noted that car keys can be used as a weapon to protect you. Battery-operated keys with panic buttons can deter attacks, he said.
Edwards also suggests checking back seats and truck beds before getting in a vehicle.
“Be prepared,” he said. “Give your home that ‘lived-in’ look before you go away for the holidays. Have someone pick up your paper or mail while you’re gone. Safety is an all-year, full-time job.”