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Customers or suspects?

By Ed Brock

Ousman Janneh was faced with a difficult situation recently.

Janneh, who with his brother Kebba Janneh is part owner of Makeovers clothing store in Morrow, had two women in the store with three children and he knew they were trying to steal from him.

They had come into the store small store on Mt. Zion Road and complained about the prices. Then they took several pieces of lingerie into a back room and, when it came time to return the clothing Janneh noticed that at least three pieces were missing.

So he called the police.

"I wasn't trying to get anybody arrested, I just thought it was wrong," Janneh said.

The Janneh's are no strangers to crime. Thieves have broken into their store twice before, at their previous location in Riverdale and then again at the Morrow location in August.

"This one was really shocking. It was really unexpected," Janneh said.

Ordinarily the Christmas shopping season can mean an increase in shoplifting as well, but police in Morrow are reporting a relatively low-crime season so far. That's especially good for small businesses like Makeovers.

"When you're a small business you depend on people," Janneh said. "I'm still trying to see everybody as a customer and not as a suspect."

The number of larceny cases (including shoplifting) for November in Morrow was 22 less than last year, Morrow police Capt. Richard Murphy said, and so far there's been no noticeable surge in such cases this month.

"Not yet this season, which is surprising, actually," Murphy said. "It looks like the retailers have been having a good season."

With its location on I-75, the city of Morrow has one of the heaviest concentrations of retail businesses in Clayton County. As it usually does this time of year, the Morrow Police Department has increased its patrols and it could be that's had an impact, Murphy said.

Even heavy enforcement of traffic violations has an effect.

"Some of those people (stopped for traffic violations) may have been coming to commit crimes," Murphy said. "So we get them before they get the opportunity."

Southlake Mall has also added more security personnel for the Christmas season.

"That's because we have an increase in people in the shopping center," said Cris Burgum, the mall's manager.

They're also providing the merchants in the mall with tips on preventing shoplifting in their stores, but Burgum said that is a year-round process.

Burgum said the mall would also install cameras in and around the mall by early next year, perhaps by mid-February.

"It will help our awareness and our response," Burgum said.

Hiring a security guard or an off-duty police officer to serve as a "visible deterrent" to shoplifters can help, Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner said, but nothing is 100 percent certain to prevent this common crime.

"That's pretty much the only thing you can do," Turner said.

The county police department handled 48 shoplifting cases in November, up from 33 at the same time last year. They've handled 19 cases so far this month and last year they had 34 cases for the entire month.