Law enforcement shares safety suggestions for holiday season

By NIKKI ROWELL,

The holiday season is here and the grinches are out. The Madison and Ridgeland police have some tips and reminders for Northsiders to ensure their holidays remain merry and bright.

According to Ridgeland Police Chief John Neal, crime increases some during the holiday season.

This time of year, children get out of school, people leave home to visit family members, indulge in alcoholic beverages and shop for the perfect Christmas gifts.

So, each year, the number of domestic violence calls, DUIs, petty crimes and theft increases.

Madison Police Chief Gene Waldrop said the city sees slight increases in the number of DUIs and domestic cases during the holiday season.

Tony Willridge, commander of patrol division for Ridgeland Police Department, said the key words for this holiday season are “stay vigilant.”

“We have kids out of school at that time, so most of our petty crimes increase,” Neal said. “We’ll probably experience an uptick in auto burglaries because kids will be out rummaging through neighborhoods and stuff like that. When our residents leave cars unlocked it makes an easy target.”

Property crimes at retail spaces are also expected to increase. This includes crimes like shoplifting. Last year, there were 11 auto burglaries, two commercial burglaries and four residential burglaries in the city between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

There were 32 reports of shoplifting made last year between Thanksgiving and the start of 2018.

“We also see an uptick in credit card fraud and embezzlement around the holidays, because it’s a lot busier time of the year,” Neal said.

 

More time spent with family and indulging in the holiday cheer typically leads to an increase in drunk driving and domestic violence reports this time of year.

“When you have a traditional five-day week with a two-day weekend, people are fine through that,” he said. “When you have a four-day weekend, then you add some alcohol and some festive holiday cheer into it, then tensions run high. We see an upswing in some of our domestic type calls where we just have to go over there and separate parties for a night until alcohol is out of their system and they can calm tempers down.”

He said that’s common for most holiday weekends. In 2016, 12 domestic violence calls were responded to, while four occurred last year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

“You get family in from out of town, kids home from college or just any kind of disruption to normal family life, people sometimes have a hard time dealing with that,” he said.

Willridge said they also see a slight increase in DUIs. Ridgeland police made 18 arrests for DUIs last year and 31 in 2016 between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We do a lot of blitzes during this Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s holiday season,” Neal said. “We do checkpoints at higher peak times. Patrols for speeders and impaired driving and such as that.”

Neal said that might be why the numbers seem higher during this time of year.

“Maybe we’re just catching more because we’re more visible during that time,” he said. “When we put more enforcement out on the street, then obviously we’re going to catch more.”

“We will try to be proactive with crime reduction,” Waldrop said. “Due to parties there will probably be an increase in DUIs.”

He said they will do saturation patrols and checkpoints to deter drinking and driving.

Designated drivers are encouraged for all holiday parties.

Willridge said one of the largest retail shopping centers, Northpark Mall, didn’t have any auto burglaries there last year.

“That’s one of the things we are very proud of,” he said.

Neal said Ridgeland battles residents’ perception of crime at some retail shopping areas.

“When we look at the numbers for shopliftings and auto thefts, the perception that there is crime out there doesn’t match up to the calls we get,” Neal said. “People should feel safe when they go out there to shop. We just ask that they be smart when shopping. Don’t go out and set that new Fitbit on the dash.”

He suggests that while shopping, maybe take breaks to take packages home instead of piling them in the car in plain sight.

Neal said the bottom line is to make sure you’re not an easy target for a lazy criminal.

Waldrop said patrols will be making their rounds in commercial retail areas.

Neal, Waldrop and Willridge offered some tips for Northsiders to stay safe and stay out of trouble this holiday season.

“More officers will be out throughout the holiday season,” Neal said. “If you don’t feel comfortable leaving a store, by all means, call the police.

Neal said there will be more officers out and they would love to be there to help residents feel safe.

“We’re going to be visible in the area, but we don’t want someone to be a victim of a crime and then think, oh something looked kind of funny, I should have called. Go ahead and call,” Neal said. “We will be there to respond to any needs you might have.”

Some officers will be taken off their normal shift and rolled into what they call their holiday season staffing.

During the daytime hours Ridgeland will have as many as 15 to 18 officers on duty without taking away from the nighttime shift.

Madison will have increased patrols as well, both marked and unmarked.

“This is the time of year when we will start getting calls from neighborhoods about suspicious cars driving around neighborhoods,” Neal said. “They’re there because they’re following around the UPS truck or the FedEx truck or the mail carrier. It’s easy prey for those who have those type of deliveries.”

Neal suggests residents have packages set to be delivered when someone will be home, so that packages won’t be stolen from the front porch.

“If you’re away from home, pull your drapes to keep your tree and presents out of view,” Waldrop said. “Criminals do their Christmas shopping in different ways than most residents.”

Neal added that if residents are going out of town to set lights on a timer, stop paper deliveries, stop mail deliveries and take care of anything that would make your house look obviously unoccupied.

“Do anything you can to make your home look lived in while you’re away,” Neal said.

Neal also suggests being careful when taking the trash out after the holidays.

“You just got that new 70-inch TV, don’t take that box out and put it by your garbage,” he said. He suggests folding boxes from expensive items and turning them inside out.

He also said the fire stations in Ridgeland have recycle bins where residents can drop of boxes that give away what Santa Claus brought.

Willridge encourages Northsiders to be careful with carrying too much cash.

He said that people don’t like to overuse cards during the holidays, so they keep large amounts of cash on them. He said to be careful not to show that cash or pull it all out while paying so that you don’t attract attention.

He added that those who need to use an ATM to try to go to an ATM that is inside a building, and if you have to go to a drive through, to drive around once or twice first to check out the surroundings.

“And, by all means, avoid using an ATM at night and shopping alone at night,” he said.

“Put your gifts in the trunk, and certainly don’t show how much cash you’re carrying,” Waldrop said. “Have a good, safe time. Give extra time while out shopping because of traffic.”

Neal also wanted to remind residents not to buy products from people in the parking lot. He has had many reports of people being scammed by people selling things in parking lots.

Last but not least, Neal encourages residents to document credit card numbers on a piece of paper at home in the event that their purse or wallet is stolen so that police can immediately start tracking transactions.