The Tracy Police Department is spending tens of thousands of dollars on aggressive efforts to protect shoppers this holiday season.
On Thanksgiving, the department stepped up its educational, patrol and intelligence activities to combat thieves who prey on people at shopping malls or who get home deliveries of gifts.
“We have approximately 70 additional shifts of extra enforcement,” Lt. Octavio Lopez said Tuesday, adding that the officers on overtime duty are patrolling high-traffic areas like the West Valley Mall and the nearby shopping centers on Grant Line Road. “It’s high-visibility. There’s an educational component to it for the consumer, there’s a deterrent component for the criminal and there’s a faster response having someone in the general area.”
The department is trying to educate the public through cards emblazoned with the slogan “Lock it or lose it.” Officers are distributing the cards in person at the mall or leaving them on windshields in the parking lot.
“It really comes down to the basics of parking in well-lit areas. Not leaving any packages that are visible,” Lopez said.
The lieutenant also advised shoppers not to put items in their trunks when they arrive at a store because criminals might be hanging out in the parking lot watching. He also advised people to keep their cars clutter-free.
“If there’s a possibility there may be something, they’re willing to take that risk. Even for a small gain of something of low value,” he said. “If you keep it clear and they notice there is nothing of value in sight, there’s a likelihood that they’ll move on to another vehicle.”
Even charging cords or mounting brackets left in plain sight can be an indication to the thief that there might be phones or other small gadgets in glove boxes or console compartments.
“In addition to those extra shifts, our special enforcement team has been really focused on crime in and around that area,” Lopez said. “They are addressing more the suspicious activity before it actually evolves into criminal activity.”
The cost of this upgraded enforcement to Tracy taxpayers isn’t small.
“It’s a significant amount of money,” Lopez said. “Between $30,000-$40,000 of straight shift overtime. Because we definitely don’t want to take from other areas of the city that still need to be served, but we understand the importance of having to provide that extra necessary officer out in these high-traffic shopping areas.”
Officers also now have direct contact with store security, carrying radios that guards can reach them on to get a quick response.
Lopez asked people to be aware of their surroundings and trust their gut instinct if it tells them that someone looks suspicious. He wants folks to call the police nonemergency number, 831-6550, instead of confronting someone.
“Leave it to us,” he said. “We’re equipped to handle those situations. You definitely don’t want to put yourself into a situation where you may have to defend yourself or, God forbid, get hurt. It’s best just to observe and report. Gather as much intelligence as you can.”
The department has also added a new component to its preparations.
“This year we expanded our awareness not just to theft of vehicles. We’re going to start tackling package theft. Mail theft. And home security,” Lopez said. “We work with the major shipping companies. We have them in town. Amazon, FedEx. They train them (delivery drivers) for their situational awareness. If they see a vehicle following them, they’re also encouraged to call it in.”
He had one last piece of advice for online shoppers.
“In the holiday season, folks get packages at their homes too. Make sure that they collect those in a reasonable amount of time,” Lopez said. “There’s a lot more drop-box areas. That’s where you can have your packages delivered to an offsite and then you can pick them up at your convenience.”