Gone in the blink of an eye

By Ed Brock

The story is always the same, Morrow police Maj. Charlie Sewell said.

"He was such a nice young man. He said he was trying to cook a nice dinner for his wife and he wasn't a very good cook and he needed to know if it was condensed milk," Sewell said.

And after the conversation, often much later, the victim realizes that her pocketbook is missing from her purse.

"It just takes a second," Sewell said.

Two-person teams of thieves are patrolling stores in Clayton County, one to distract the victim with some kind of conversation while the other deftly grabs the cash, credit or debit cards. It happens everywhere, and the thieves are extremely hard to catch.

"The problem is most people don't even notice their wallet is missing until 10 or 30 minutes later," Lake City police Chief David Colwell said.

That window is not only an opportunity for the criminals to make good their escape, Colwell said.

"If you know you have 30 minutes to an hour before somebody will notice their card is gone, then you've got 30 minutes or an hour to shop before somebody blocks access to it," Colwell said.

Colwell said the best way to prevent the crime is for shoppers to take steps to prevent becoming a victim. Certain grocery stores have signs at the door warning female shoppers to pay attention to their purse.

The two-person operation is common, but sometimes it's not necessary to distract the victim.

"I've seen lots of women who leave their purses unattended," Sewell said. "Even when I'm off duty I feel like it's my duty to tell them. Most of them are appreciative. Some of them have gotten a little angry."

So, as a more discreet way to get the point across, the Morrow Police Department has begun to include this tip on the back of their "case cards" to hand out to members of the public.

"In the blink of an eye a criminal can remove a wallet from a pocketbook that is left in a shopping cart. The safest practice is to keep your pocketbook on your person."

Keeping the purse on the person was the same advice Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner gave. Better yet, Turner said, take the money or cards needed for that particular trip and keep them in a pocket.

"If they don't see the pocketbook there, of course you're not a target," Turner said.