Public Safety

Avoid holiday theft with these tips from Cedar Rapids police

Wrapped Christmas presents are seen in the window of a store in Mount Vernon. (The Gazette file photo)
Wrapped Christmas presents are seen in the window of a store in Mount Vernon. (The Gazette file photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — With holiday shopping in full swing, the Cedar Rapids Police Department is reminding folks to be watchful as they stock up on gifts.

With package deliveries on doorsteps, vehicles crammed with gifts and presents stacked around Christmas trees often in full view through home windows, Cedar Rapids officer Shannon Sampson said the holiday season is rife with temptation for those looking to help themselves to other people’s belongings.

But there are plenty of things people can do to safeguard their homes, vehicles and valuables, she said.

“Just a few simple steps can save someone from being a victim,” Sampson said.

Thefts from vehicles are perhaps some of the easiest to prevent, said Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids public safety spokesperson.

“A vast majority of these thefts involve unlocked vehicles,” he said.

Thefts from vehicles are typically crimes of opportunity, he said. If a perpetrator walks past a vehicle where valuables are visible inside and the vehicle doors are unlocked, that person is more likely to take advantage of the situation.

“Locking your doors is the easiest step people can take to protect their valuables and their vehicles,” he said. “Don’t’ leave the car running, and don’t leave the keys in the car.”

And with Christmas only a few weeks away, Sampson said many people are busy with holiday shopping and loading up their vehicles with all sorts of desirable items and packages.

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“You don’t want to leaves packages or shopping bags in your vehicle in plain view,” she said. “If you can, put them in the trunk of your car or conceal them in some way — cover them up or hide them under the seat.”

Additionally, Sampson recommended parking close to the store, being aware of who is in the parking lot and, if it is dark outside, parking under a light source.

Another source of possible temptation is packages left unattended on the front porch or stoop.

“You don’t want to have packages sitting out on doorsteps for long periods of time,” Sampson said. “So we recommend using the tracking numbers to keep an eye on the package and monitor when it will be delivered.”

If someone can’t be home to receive the package, Sampson recommends asking a neighbor to look out for the delivery and take the package until someone gets home. Sampson said some people might choose to get packages delivered to their workplace or a nearby friend’s or family member’s home.

Additionally, she said some retailers will offer free shipping if the buyer has the items ordered online shipped to a local brick-and-mortar location.

These days, Sampson said, more people are shopping online than in actual stores, and taking precautions to deter thefts can spare them the hassle of dealing with a stolen package.

Home security or surveillance systems can serve as a great deterrent, Sampson said, as well as lead to a perpetrator if a theft does occur.

“A lot of houses have their own surveillance systems or doorbell cameras now that can catch ‘porch pirates’ in the act,” she said. “And, if you get a good picture of the suspect and you get those pictures to us (the police), it could help us catch that person and maybe recover the stolen items.”

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In general, surveillance cameras could serve as a deterrent, Sampson said, because people are less likely to break into a home or steal packages off a porch if they know there is a camera taking their picture.

Sampson also recommended taking precautions when it comes to what people can see inside the home.

“At this time of year, a lot of people like to display their Christmas tree in front of the window and pile presents underneath it for everyone to see,” she said. “That can be just as tempting as a purse sitting in plain sight in a vehicle.”

There are a couple ways people can avoid such temptation, Sampson said.

“It’s a good idea to obstruct the view into your house,” she said. “Closing your blinds or curtains means that people can’t see what you have inside, whether it’s a pile of presents or a big, fancy TV.”

For people determined to display their tree, Sampson recommended not piling presents underneath the tree until Christmas.

And after Christmas, when the wrapping paper has been torn to shreds and boxes lie empty on the living room floor, Sampson said putting the boxes from those new gadgets out by the curb could be enticing.

“You don’t want to show people what you have in your house,” she said. “So, we recommend you collapse the boxes and put them inside the actual recycling or garbage bins.”

When traveling, Sampson said keeping house lights on timers, putting temporary stops on mail and newspaper deliveries, or asking a neighbor to collect deliveries, can help give the impression that people are home.

In general, Sampson said, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on things and be aware of what is going on around you, your home and your vehicle.

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“There is often a lot of focus on crime prevention and protecting belongings during the holidays,” Sampson said. “But those are things we should be guarding against throughout the year, because these thefts can happen at any time.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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