During the busiest shopping season of the year, islanders are reminded to put safety first. Marco Island Police Officer Jen Lofy says December may seem relatively quiet here in paradise but locals should be careful not to let the calm island breeze give them a false sense of security.
“We do experience a high number of cars left unlocked. People will go through them. Whether something is taken or not, it’s considered a burglary,” Lofy explained. “The problem is you’re giving criminals the opportunity. It’s that mindset that we live on an island, we know everybody. You still have very wealthy people that create crimes. It’s the opportunity to gain something.”
The state of the economy and the real estate market don’t help either. Lofy says many businesses are hurting right now and if you give people the chance, even here in the land of wealth and retirement, people may be tempted to take something.
“Locals and snowbirds are very relaxed. You should operate like you would anywhere you came from. You need to lock your cars, your doors and windows to your home and be aware of your surroundings. And if you see something in question, call the police,” added Lofy.
During the holidays, many people take trips, visit friends and spend time away from the house for holiday shopping. Burglars have countless good prospects and experts agree: December through January is a very vulnerable time for busy and distracted homeowners.
“When you travel, let the police department know. We do checks on houses when people aren’t here. It’s always good to let us know you’ll be gone from this date to this date,” advised Lofy. “Then we know who we can contact in case there’s an alarm that goes off. Have neighbors pick up your mail, turn lights on at night and if you have hurricane shutters, use them as an extra security for your home.”
The officer remembers a time when, about five or six years ago, gypsies came down through the state of Florida, breaking into people’s homes, pretending they thought the homes were “for sale.”
“One of the hardest things is to get residents to realize what is not normal activity. There are some things where if you’re unsure, still call and let us make the decision because that person may not have done anything, but they may have had the thought of doing something. If they’re approached it’s going to deter them from wanting to come back,” Lofy explained.
When traveling over the holidays, if you feel you are being followed, stay on a busy street. At stop lights, leave enough space in front of the vehicle so you can move if necessary. Maintain at least half a tank of fuel and invest in a road service membership. Choose well lit ATM’s and have someone with you when using them at night. Pocket cash and count it later. Cancel the transaction if anything seems suspicious.
“People want to get their shopping done and so they’re not paying attention to their surroundings. Once you get busy, that’s when you leave yourself vulnerable,” Lofy warned. “When shopping, park in a well lit area. Lock vehicles and put the windows up, even if you’re only running in for a minute. Place packages and gifts out of sight. Have keys ready and look inside and under the vehicle before entering. I have noticed there have been an increase in car jackings in Lee County. If you practice some of these common sense tips, you won’t be giving criminals an opportunity to break into your car. These people are just waiting for an opportunity to gain something.”
During shopping trips, families with children should have an emergency “separation” plan. Kids should know their name, their parents’ name and where they live. Parents should never leave young children in a car, in a restaurant or in a public restroom unattended, even for a minute.
“I have seen occasions where kids have been left at a video or game store and parents are nowhere to be found. They’re on the other side of the shopping mall. It’s common sense. You still have teenage kids who are approached. Your 14 and 15 year old is getting approached. You have to know your child’s maturity level but you have to think about how you’re giving a criminal the opportunity when there isn’t a parent around,” said Lofy. “These teenage kids are just as vulnerable. They think they know what they’re doing but they are just as curious as a six year old when it comes to things. You need to talk your kids and have a plan.”
Many of today’s holiday gift items such as backpacks and coats include the free inscription of a child’s name. These items should not be worn in public, since it gives a stranger the opportunity for a “friendly” encounter. Removing names and shipping information from all holiday packages received before proper disposal is good practice to help prevent identify theft. And when the doorbell rings, don’t assume it’s the postman bringing a special delivery. Always check to see who is at the door before opening it and never open the door to unexpected visitors. As a rule of thumb, the moment something seems suspicious, contact police.
“We want people to call on anything and everything because if they don’t call, we aren’t aware of what’s going on. That piece of the puzzle may fit for us or it could be the start of something that we can inform the community about. It’s OK to call, even if they’re not sure. If you’ve got suspicious activity occurring, dial 9-1-1,” Lofy said. “And don’t wait — I’ve had too many people sleep on it. They call and say, ‘This is what happened and the more I think about it...’ Well, the next day it’s harder to do anything about it. The minute you think, ‘maybe,’ is the minute you should be dialing. There are enough officers here and that’s our job. People always say ‘We didn’t want to interrupt you. We didn’t want to bother you.’ Our job is to know what’s going on to make Marco Island a safer place. But if we have a community that thinks ‘we don’t want to bother the police department,’ then we’re not going to get anywhere.”
For more information on how to keep your family safe anytime of year, visit www.response.com/safety.
To report suspicious activity, contact the Marco Island Police Department non-emergency line at 389-5050. In an emergency, dial 9-1-1.