With Christmas less than a week away, shoppers and businesses have more money.
That money and extra merchandise often cause a rise in crimes against businesses, including theft, shoplifting and armed robbery, Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said.
He recently shared tips with Columbia County Chamber of Commerce members on how to keep their business from being a target.
"Every year it is a concern because of the time of year - more shoppers, more money in the businesses," Whittle said.
He also said this year's crime rate is lower than previous years. According to sheriff's office Capt. Steve Morris, the county has experienced 17 fewer armed robberies this year, with six so far compared to 23 this time last year.
"The trend is down, and we hope to continue that through the remainder of this year," Morris said.
Spicie General, a sales support employee at the Cingular Wireless store in West Town Shopping Center, said her staff tries to keep at least two people in the front of the store at all times. The store also is monitored by cameras.
But managers have considered hiring security guards for the holiday season because a Savannah branch of the store was robbed recently, General said.
Whittle said there is no one thing business owners or individuals can do to avoid being the target of a robbery, theft or other crimes that increase during the holidays.
"It takes a concerted effort from several levels to help combat the crime and prevent it," he said.
For business owners and residents, Whittle recommends being aware of surroundings, try to stay in well-lit areas and don't flash cash where it can be seen by others.
"It just makes an inviting target and a lot of times, robberies are strictly a target for opportunity," Whittle said. "Criminals know (people) are going to have extra money on them. They actually look for those victims."
Alison George, an employee of Wild Birds Unlimited, also in West Town, agrees with Whittle that being alert is the most important preventative action to lots of crimes including robbery and shoplifting.
"We have to pay more attention because there are more people," George said. "There are not eyes everywhere in here, so you have to be more alert."
The sheriff's office provides escort services that can make drops safer for small businesses where late-night deposit drops are often done by one person, said Terra Carroll, Columbia County Chamber of Commerce program director.
"You can call the sheriff's office, and they will take you to the bank to make deposits," she said. "You don't have go alone."
Holiday safety tips for businesses:
* Use good cash-handling procedures to limit the amount of cash kept in the register.
* Use a drop safe for large bills.
* Make frequent deposits to limit the amount of cash kept on the premises. Call the sheriff's office for escorts when needed.
* Make sure the business is well lighted inside and out. Darkness could help cover criminal activity.
* Keep windows and doors free from displays that might obstruct the view inside and outside of the business.
* Always greet each customer who comes in the business and stay alert. A drowsy, inattentive clerk could invite would-be robbers.
* When possible, have at least two clerks on duty, particularly during night shifts.
* Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Scan the parking area before opening or closing the business, and immediately report suspicious people or activities to the sheriff's office.
* Use video surveillance when possible and post signs stating the premises are monitored.
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