Police prepare for shopping season crime by putting more officers in patrol cars Administrative duties put aside to deter robbers

November 27, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Sales and spirits are not the only things that rise during the Christmas shopping season, which officially opens today.

Traditionally, crime goes up, too -- and in Baltimore County, three dozen officers have been shifted from administrative jobs and into patrol cars as part of a "Christmas deployment."

The extra patrols include officers such as Gary E. Gephardt, who Wednesday put aside his usual work as a school drug education officer and climbed into a cruiser at Essex Precinct.

For the next few hours, Gephardt drove along Back River Neck Road, sweeping in and around the busy commercial corridor with frequent stops.

"This is 'stop, walk and talk,' " he explained as he parked the cruiser at Country Ridge Shopping Center.

First stop was an Ames store engulfed in tinsel and bow-bedecked trees.

Gephardt headed for the customer service counter near the front of the store.

"How you doing?" he asked two women working behind the counter. Fine, they assured him.

"You expecting a heavy crowd?" No, not tonight, he was told. But Friday, yes.

"You'll be seeing an increase in police presence," he told them. "I'm just stopping by to make sure everybody's doing OK."

So it went in store after store -- a wig shop, a pizza parlor, a health clinic, a grocery store crowded with last-minute Thanksgiving cooks. Gephardt introduced himself, explained about the increased patrols and gave the precinct's phone number "just in case."

This is law enforcement at its most basic, he said -- and it works.

"Our purpose is to maintain high visibility," he said. "It lets business people know we're out here. It lets shoppers know we're out here. And last but not least, it's going to hopefully send a message to possible criminals out there."

The increased patrols -- coupled with a Business Patrol Initiative begun last year that assigns officers to seven commercial corridors in the county -- helped lower street robberies last year, said Chief Terrence B. Sheridan.

"There are more people out, more people spending money -- and they're possible targets of crime," Sheridan said. "Historically, we've had a slight increase dur- ing this time of the year" in robberies.

Statistics for the past three years suggest that extra patrols deter robberies.

Baltimore County's street robberies -- a category that includes purse snatching, one of the most common crimes during the holiday season -- have dropped from 138 in 1995 to 108 last year.

Commercial robberies -- thefts from stores -- dropped slightly last year to 79 during the holiday season, compared with 82 in 1995.

PTC "During the holiday season, you have more people out and about it kind of leads to an increase in criminal activity," Gephardt said. "If someone is thinking about being up to no good, maybe they'll think twice about it."

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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