Christmas cards urge shoppers to be wary Police give reminders that crime doesn't take a holiday

December 02, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Christmas cards from police departments don't wish anyone holiday cheer. Instead, the greetings offer advice on how to avoid getting gifts stolen long before they're wrapped.

"It can take 10 hours to find the perfect holiday gifts," say the cards being distributed to shoppers in Baltimore and Baltimore County. "It only takes 10 seconds to lose them."

The two police agencies started distributing the warning yesterday to more than 80,000 people at area malls, shopping centers, stores and restaurants. The campaign was designed by the Reeves advertising agency.

With thefts from cars numbering in the thousands, particularly in downtown Baltimore, police want to drive home a simple, yet often unheeded suggestion to motorists: "The next time you leave your car, leave it empty."

The cards are one of many initiatives by police to ensure people's safety. In some areas, undercover officers are dressing as shoppers to arrest muggers and other criminals. Baltimore County has 40 additional officers patrolling seven of the busiest commercial corridors.

"It is a way of empowering the public to be more sensitive and aware of crime," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. "These are very basic, fundamental messages. Look at your car the way a thief would look at your car and say, 'Hey, am I vulnerable?' "

Police officers and members of the Downtown Partnership's public safety patrol will distribute the cards in the program called "Street Smarts, don't let it happen to you."

The cards are printed on cardboard and show a blond model wearing a Santa Claus hat and carrying two armfuls of brightly wrapped gifts. Underneath is a photo of a car with a broken window.

Last week, police officers arrested a man suspected of breaking into a van in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. Sgt. Frank Wagner said a search of the man's home turned up more than 100 items allegedly stolen from six cars.

"He had just about anything you'd imagine that people would leave in their cars," Wagner said. The items included phones, calculators, compact discs and cassette tapes and an emergency vehicle kit that said "call police" on the front.

While theft from cars is down this year, police said about 4,000 cars in downtown Baltimore have been broken into this year. Central District police have arrested 550 people who they say are responsible for about 1,500 of the break-ins.

Frazier said that in more than half the thefts, a car phone was stolen. Cellular phones get top dollar on the street and are commonly sold to stores that reprogram them with stolen numbers and sell them to drug dealers.

Portable phones are often plugged into cigarette lighters, and police say that a car without a lighter signals thieves that a phone is hidden in the car and is an invitation for a break-in.

"If you don't leave gifts or other items out where they can be seen, you will go a long way toward reducing crime," said Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of police work."

Another safety tip can be a bit inconvenient for shoppers. Charles W. Norris Jr., the security director for Towson Town Center, advises people to avoid placing gifts in their cars and then returning to the mall for more shopping.

He said thieves are often waiting for such an opportunity. He suggests that people drive to another parking space "so that anybody watching will think that you have left."

Police say most of the thieves are drug addicts who are looking for enough money to satisfy their habit.

"The tragedy is that the going rate for stolen goods is 15 cents on the dollar," Frazier said. "That means that for $100 you spend on gifts, they will be sold for 15 bucks."

Pub Date: 12/02/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.