The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


December 19, 2012

'Tis the season to be cautious | Police: Lock vehicles, hide packages

JOHNSTOWN — Last week, a Pontiac Grand Am was stolen from a Pizza Hut in Richland Township and taken on a joy ride that ended with a crash into a police vehicle.

It was a tough break for the car owner.

But it need not have happened.

According to township police, the owner of the vehicle left the car unlocked – with the keys inside.

Richland police Detective Tom Keirn said the auto theft was one of several that have occurred recently in the township – and in each case, the keys were left in the vehicles.

“Take the keys out of the car,” he urged.

It’s especially good advice during the holiday season, when large numbers of residents are shopping at malls and retail shops.

“There is always someone out there looking,” Keirn said. “There are people in the parking lot watching what you are doing. If they see you haven’t locked your car they are going to come over and go through it. It’s not that they get that much, but they take whatever they can get in a relatively short time.”

Exposed packages are especially attractive.

“If they see packages in the back of the car and that door isn’t locked, they’re gone,” Keirn said. “We call them crimes of opportunity.

 “If we can encourage anybody to do anything, it’s take that extra minute to lock up and go ahead and hide your packages. Bring a blanket along with you. Throw a blanket over the packages.”

Shoppers should also use precautions to guard against purse and wallet thefts.

Men should keep their wallets in the front pocket of their pants rather than a back pocket, and women should hold their purses close to their bodies with the openings facing in.

Advice for people using ATM machines includes using those machines that are in well-lighted places. If someone is loitering near an ATM, it is best to walk away and use another machine.  

Keirn said thefts happen every holiday season, but this year has been worse than usual.

“The Richland police have been hounded with retail thefts,” he said. “We are definitely seeing an increase in the criminal activity this year.

“We’re not bored by any means.”

Keirn said shoppers also should use common sense to keep safe when walking to their cars after dark.

“If you can, try to pair up with somebody else when you leave.”

Keirn said residents should not assume that crimes only happen to someone else.

“We deal with people who figure something like this will never happen,” he said.

Keirn had one other piece of advice.

“Be patient,” he said. “Road rage happens this time of year.

“Remember it’s the season. Realize that everybody has someplace to go.”

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