Holiday shoppers, heed safety advice


PHOTO: Security officers Bob Collins and Richard Carleton patrol The Mall at Barnes Crossing. They and regional police are on alert to keep holiday shopping a safe experience. (C. Todd Sherman)

By Danza Johnson

Daily Journal

TUPELO - Finding the perfect holiday gift is enough to worry about.

Tupelo police are working to make sure safety isn't another concern.

"We're going to get people in here from Alabama, Tennessee and all parts of Mississippi shopping," said Chief Harold Chaffin. "After 5 o'clock and on the weekends the daytime traffic will really increase. It's our job to assure the safety for everyone who comes to Tupelo."

From "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, through Jan.2, the shopping season will be in full swing as thousands of people flood the Tupelo shopping scene. More than 12 million people visit The Mall at Barnes Crossing every year, with about 4.5 million of them during the holiday shopping season.

Those increased numbers along with the general need to patrol the city brought about the creation of Operation Safe Holiday, a departmentwide effort.

Almost every division in the TPD will be beefed up, especially patrol and traffic. Because of the heavy traffic, Chaffin said, most of what police will be dealing with will be automobile accidents.

"Traffic is going to move unbelievably slow so people have got to just sit there and have patience," Chaffin said. "There is nothing we can do about traffic, so everyone just has to suffer through it."

Maj. Anthony Hill, the commander of the operation, said mobile command posts will be set up at shopping hot spots throughout town. Because people carry large amounts of money while shopping, Hill said, parking lots will be heavily monitored.

"Criminals wait for the holiday season, just like shoppers," said Hill. "They know people are traveling with money and goods in their cars and those can be targets. We'll be patrolling the parking lots in force. We want people to feel safe going in and out of the stores."

Throughout the region

Other cities are taking similar precautions. Oxford Assistant Police Chief Mike Martin said people will see plenty of black-and-whites patrolling the city this holiday season.

"We'll really increase our visibility in the shopping centers," said Martin. "We don't have much problem in the stores with shoplifters. Our biggest problem comes from the parking lot with people breaking into cars, so we will focus a lot of our efforts there."

Richard Carleton, director of security at regional shopping hub The Mall at Barnes Crossing, said mall security also will be increased.

"The day after Thanksgiving is our big busy day," said Carleton. "We will really increase our visibility that day. All of our guys are certified law enforcement agents, so they know the job and know how to handle all situations. We have a great camera system at the mall, which is really going to come in handy."

While the customers are often targets of holiday crimes, the merchants incur the biggest losses. Shoplifters walk off with millions of dollars in merchandise every holiday season.

"Shoplifting is just crippling to these stores around the holidays," said mall manager Jeff Snyder said. "We have to protect them from this crime. The best way to do that is through good customer service. We want store personnel to go around and introduce themselves to the customers and ask if they need help. The customers who are there to shop will really appreciate it and the ones who are there for other reasons will feel uncomfortable and leave."

Shopping safety tips:

- Don't carry a large amount of money

- Lock car doors and make sure merchandise is locked in the trunk or not visible to people passing by

- When shopping at night, park in well-lit areas

- Know your surroundings

- Do not carry a purse or wallet, if possible

- Keep cash in your front pocket

- Pay for items with a check or credit card when possible

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