Patricia Sainsbury hustled out of Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, arms full of brightly wrapped Christmas packages. She flipped open the trunk of her car, dropped in the presents and checked to make sure her trunk had locked.
It's a ritual the West Jordan woman takes extra care to practice during the holidays with hopes of steering clear of prowlers who'd like to turn the season of giving into the season of taking.
"I always put everything in the trunk," Sainsbury said in the mall parking lot. "Out of sight, out of mind."
Police are encouraging shoppers like Sainsbury to be savvy about safety in the coming weeks or become prime targets for thieves out to profit during the days leading up to Christmas.
"We advise you to pay attention to your surroundings ... you can't be too careful," said Lara Jones, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City Police Department."
Some malls have taken a proactive approach in preparing for how an economic downturn could affect theft and burglary rates this season.
Layton Hills Mall recently increased security staff and worked with the Layton Police Department to beef up patrols through the mall's parking lots. The mall's management anticipated the possibility of an increase in car break-ins and shoplifting as a result of a stumbling economy, said Danielle Bendinelli.
Some cities around the Salt Lake Valley have already seen?a typical spike in thefts and burglaries that tend to accompany the holidays. ?
In Sandy, for example, vehicle burglaries have more than tripled this November compared to a year ago. Last month Sandy police recorded 158 car burglaries versus just 49 in November 2007, said Sgt. Justin Chapman. While some of those burglaries occurred in commercial areas, the trend is found throughout the city, Chapman said.
Increased patrols and security measures around the holidays may be paying off. The Salt Lake County jail booked 7,860 prisoners in November 2007 for misdemeanor crimes, which includes charges like shoplifting. Last month, the number dropped slightly to 7,049 people booked for misdemeanors.
The holidays overall remain a time when vacant houses and carloads of shopping bags lure criminals to prey on people,? Chapman said.
"This is preventable crime," he said. "Secure your vehicle, roll up your windows and lock your doors."
At the mall...
Don't leave valuables in your car. Try to cover any packages so they aren't visible from the outside. If you shove a purse under a car seat, make sure straps aren't poking out and leaving burglars a clue.
If you place packages in your trunk, look around to see if anyone is watching you. Some prowlers survey parking lots and break into trunks after a vehicle owner has left.
Trust your gut. If a situation doesn't "feel right" when walking out to your car, ask mall security to escort you.
Avoid making multiple trips back to your vehicle, if possible. A prowler may try to find a victim who drops off shopping bags in a vehicle, and then leaves to do more shopping.
Keep your purse close to your body. Avoid reading a book while walking or listening to an iPod -- distractions that would make you a better target for a quick-acting thief.
Park and walk in well-lit areas.
At home ...
Make sure your house doesn't look vacant. If you're out-of-town, ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your property.
Stop your mail and newspaper temporarily so burglars aren't tipped off that you're not around. Also have a neighbor or hire someone to keep your driveway and sidewalks clear of snow.
Get an electric timer for your lights, so it appears you may be home.
Keep your Christmas tree away from windows that would allow potential burglars to see a pile of gifts.
Sources: Salt Lake City Police Department, Layton Police Department, South Salt Lake Police Department, Murray Police Department