As holiday shoppers hit the streets in full force this weekend, increased police patrols with officers working overtime will be right behind them.
Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County will bolster their police presence in shopping areas from now until Christmas. In Baltimore, the extra patrols began two weeks ago because Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he sensed that the economic downturn might push more people into criminal activity.
He authorized $70,000 in overtime to provide three extra officers in each of the city's nine police districts. The officers will work from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. in heavily traveled shopping districts until Jan. 2.
"We know traditionally that during the holiday period there are more robberies," said Dennis S. Hill, a police spokesman. "Basically, there is more activity on the street and more people with money in their pockets."
Malls may present the biggest problem because all the activity leads shoppers to believe they won't be robbed, the police said.
"They [criminals] are going to go to places with the greatest chance of a big haul," said Sgt. Larry Lewis of Baltimore's Crime Resistance Unit. "There's a false feeling of safety in Owings Mills or Hunt Valley." Mall parking lots also have a wealth of unattended cars, he said. In Baltimore County, the increased patrols are justified by police records showing that robberies hit a peak in November and December, according to spokesman Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger.
Most of the thefts involve purses or packages from parked cars, he said, but other shopping-related swindles also increase.
Anne Arundel County also experiences a holiday surge in robberies and assigns extra officers to shopping centers and high-traffic areas.
The officers' presence on the street may help deter some criminals from snatching purses or breaking into cars, said spokesman Sgt. Joseph H. Bisesi.