As Christmas quickly approaches and holiday shopping is at its peak, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office has stepped up enforcement efforts to protect shoppers.
Before the day after Thanksgiving, one of the busier shopping day of the year, Sheriff Clay Whittle implemented an operation to thwart would-be robbers.
"There is a lot of activity in these parking lots this time of year, and we're going to do what we can do to make it as safe as possible," sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said.
The number of reported holiday-season crimes such as robbery, armed robbery and robbery by sudden snatch do not increase during the holiday season, Morris said, because of the sheriff's office's efforts.
Increased patrols in retail locations are a big part of the operation, Morris said.
Sgt. Jay Hollingsworth, a shift-patrol supervisor at the Evans substation, said most road deputies cover some retail establishments in their routine patrols.
Deputy Chris Cope's beat covers the retail-heavy Washington Road corridor in Evans that includes Kroger and Mullins Crossing. When patrolling, he keeps his eyes open for suspicious activity.
"A lot of times, you just want to be seen to prevent it from happening ... as a deterrent," said Cope, who drives a marked car.
Unmarked patrols revealed several people acting suspiciously the weekend after Thanksgiving. Johnny Keith Padgett, 47, of Augusta, was arrested Nov. 25 after officers in unmarked cars saw him pulling on door handles and looking in car windows in the Lowe's parking lot on Bobby Jones Expressway. Padgett was stopped in his car after leaving the lot and admitted to trying to open car doors, according to a sheriff's office incident report.
"Our goal is for our citizens to enjoy a safe and crime free holiday season," Morris said. "And to the thugs in our area who have other plans, we have but one thing to say - be careful. What may first appear to be an opportunity, may in fact be your one-way ticket to prison."
HOLIDAY SHOPPING SAFETY
- Keep a close eye on children while shopping. Teach children to go to a store clerk or security guard if they get separated from an accompanying adult. Make sure your child knows where to meet you if you get separated. Take children home if they get tired. Cranky children can be the distraction a criminal is looking for.
- Carry the day's most expensive purchases closest to your body.
- Avoid leaving purchases unattended or hidden in a car under a blanket. Instead, place purchases in the trunk.
- If a visit to an ATM is necessary, do so during daylight hours and in populated areas.
- Have the car or house key in hand before reaching the door.
- Keep car doors locked even when driving. Keep the windows rolled up far enough so outsiders cannot reach in.
Source: Columbia County Sheriff's Office
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