Vancouver police, merchants beef up security patrols

‘Operation Christmas Presence’ aims to thwart auto prowls, other thefts

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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While you’re out looking for the perfect gift, thieves are probably doing a whole different kind of window shopping: the valuables you left in the car.

Police, Westfield Vancouver mall and retail officials are teaming up to provide extra security around shopping areas through the day after Christmas. The program, called “Operation Christmas Presence,” will send extra Neighbors on Watch volunteers and police officers to keep an eye on retail areas to deter or catch thieves Friday and Saturday.

It’s not that Westfield Vancouver mall is a high-crime area, said Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said. “They’re looking at having that mall be very safe and secure and a good place to shop.”

Additional patrols are also scheduled for Dec. 17, 18, 23, 24 and 26.

“It’s been very successful (in the past) to keep things moving smoothly out there,” Kapp said.

There were 144 reported auto prowls in Vancouver in December of 2010, 102 in 2009 and 116 in 2008. Kapp said numbers aren’t everything; an uptick in prowls could be explained if someone who typically commits prowls is out of jail.

The department put a big emphasis on auto prowls this year by putting a message on its website and talking with businesses about leaving valuables in cars, Kapp said.

She hopes people will be more proactive about protecting their valuables this holiday season.

Out of sight, out of mind

Leaving items visible in a car is an “invitation for a thief to break a window out,” she said.

If you have to leave something in your car, you should put it in the trunk and drive to another part of the parking lot or another store, she said.

The holiday thievery doesn’t stop with the shopping.

Kapp also advises folks not to stack presents in front of picture windows or other places that are visible from the street.

“It’s a chance for a burglary to occur,” she said.

As always, people should lock windows and doors and use a dowel to secure sliding doors.

“Could they get in? Absolutely. But they’re going to want the easy ones,” Kapp said. “If people have too many barriers to entry they’re going to go somewhere else.”

She also says people should avoid putting product packaging for expensive items in the recycling bin. A big TV box in the trash outside a home tells people that there probably is a big TV inside, Kapp said.