HPD and mall partner to thwart holiday thievery
BY HEATHER WRIGHT
During this season of giving — when there are more shoppers out and about, more transactions, more money changing hands — the opportunities to steal from unsuspecting patrons multiply. And busy shopping areas like malls become especially attractive places for thievery and skulduggery.
In mid-November, Hyattsville Police Chief Jarod Towers and Henry Watford, general manager of the Mall at Prince George’s, walked through the mall and discussed how they could work together during the holidays to ensure a safer shopping season, according to an interview with Towers.
Across the country, the holiday season often correlates with an uptick in crime, especially theft. According to a Hyattsville Police Department (HPD) email, overall crime increased from quarter 3 to quarter 4 during each of the last three years: a 15% increase in 2020, 17% in 2021 and 19.5% in 2022. The same upward trend held true for reported thefts, specifically, from the third to fourth quarter of each year (17% increase in 2020; 18% in 2021; 13% in 2022). Theft includes shoplifting, pickpocketing and car break-ins; it differs from robbery, which involves taking property by threat of force or by force itself.
Looking closer, at a month-by-month comparison in 2022, the HPD reported 45 thefts within the City of Hyattsville in October, 46 in November and then 62 in December. Of these reported thefts, Ward 3 racked up 20 in October, 20 in November and 29 in December, respectively. The ward includes the Mall at Prince George’s, the Hyattsville Crossing Metro station and Northwestern High School.
Towers told the Life & Times that the holiday season sees far more shopping, which means more financial transactions, more cash on hand and typically more purchases left in cars. Winter also brings other complicating factors, he said, including more hours of darkness and people wearing heavier clothing, which distracts potential victims and gives offenders greater ability to conceal stolen goods.
Towers noted that the city and the Mall at Prince George’s maintain open lines of communication throughout the year, but he said he wasn’t aware of explicit conversations in previous years between the HPD and mall staff to preemptively assess strategies for the holiday season.
Towers said that there would be increased direct communications between the HPD and mall management this year, including daily or weekly briefings, which would include updates on police department or mall security staffing shortages.
Towers also noted that the police department would proactively patrol in and around the mall. He said directed patrols, in which officers focus on specific areas, are often a response to current problem areas rather than a means to proactively circumvent crime based on previous seasonal trends.
“The community will see an increased presence of the HPD at the mall,” Towers noted. “There may also be some plain clothes officers in and around the mall, as well.”
A mall spokesperson told the Life & Times that the mall had no comment at this time.
Stay safe this season with these safety tips from Hyattsville Police Chief Jarod Towers:
- Shop during daylight hours, when possible.
- Park in well-lit and secure areas, especially at night. Park in lit areas close to where you’ll be shopping and avoid parking on the outskirts of lots or garages.
- Be aware of your surroundings. When you’re at an ATM, be aware of others around you and make sure there’s no pirating device attached to the ATM that could pick up your card number or PIN.
- Carry only what you need and don’t handle or display large amounts of cash.
- Keep valuable items like wallets and phones on your person, especially in your front pockets, rather than in bags or purses.
- Shop in pairs or groups, especially if you’re using the Metro system.
- If you see anything out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate to call store security or the police.