By Daniel Silliman
Clayton County's police chief says desperate parents, and greedy teenagers, are causing a spike in armed robberies and burglaries, between Thanksgiving and Christmas in his county.
"People feel bad that they're not able to provide for their families; not able to give them a nice Thanksgiving, a nice Christmas -- and they'll go out there and do desperate things," said Chief Jeff Turner.
"Our burglaries are committed by kids, aged 13 to 21. Basically, they occur during the day, mostly. They're taking stuff and looking for things, such as video games, electronics, TVs."
Turner said the Clayton department hopes to counteract the increase in crimes with a number of strategic task forces. About 30 officers have been assigned to a burglary suppression task force and an armed robbery task force.
The burglary suppression task force will be composed of officers from the School Resource Officer unit and the detectives from the Criminal Investigation Division. The officers will aggressively patrol neighborhoods with a high rate of burglaries during the daytime, when teens are out of school, and adults are away at work.
They will give special attention, Turner said, to homes with Christmas trees and presents prominently displayed in windows -- displays giving off that holiday cheer, but also attracting would-be burglars.
"What you have," the chief said, "is criminals who are basically window-shopping. They'll go and break in and look under the tree. If they've got a tree with a lot of gifts under it, that makes a prime target."
The armed robbery task force will be made up of officers from the Special Weapons and Tactics unit, and officers from the Special Operations Divisions. The task force members will patrol in the evening and into the night, focusing on business districts, hoping to deter the criminals.
The department has run the holiday-time directed patrols for a number of years, Turner said, with some success. Last year, a burglary task force caught a carload of teens leaving the scene of a break-in on the first day it was on the street.
"We've caught several," Turner said. "We see the [crime] numbers going down in those neighborhoods and we hope we'll deter even more."
Unfortunately, Turner said, the department doesn't know how to deter all the sorts of crimes which increase between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The police have, in the past, seen a sharp increase of domestic violence and domestic dispute-related murders, during the holidays.
"It's the stress factor," Turner said. "But the only thing we can do is pass out our literature, keep our officers in the neighborhoods and hope that somebody will seek help before the violence escalates."
This year, the Clayton Police will also add another feature, to the November-December crime-fighting push: stationary police patrols in popular shopping districts.
"We'll be posted at certain corners, for maybe one, two hours a day," Turner said, "so the higher police presence and visibility will deter crime.
SideBar: Crime Avoidance Tips
The Clayton County Police Department urges citizens not to "let the spirit of giving lull you into giving burglars, muggers and pickpockets a better chance to do their dirty work."
Some tips for staying crime-free, this Christmas:
· Don't display gifts where they can be seen from outside.
· Turn on lights and a radio or TV, when you leave your house, so it looks like someone's home.
· Be extra vigilant in locking doors and windows.
· Park in a well-lighted space, when shopping, and don't leave packages in plain view.
· Avoid carrying large amounts of cash, and pay with check or credit card whenever possible.
· Put your wallet in a front pants pocket or inside coat pocket; carry your purse close to your body, not letting it dangle by the straps.
· Teach children to go to a store clerk or security guard, if they get lost.
· When traveling, ask a neighbor to watch your house.
· Don't forget to have mail and newspaper delivery stopped, when you're traveling.
"Crooks love the holidays as much as everyone else," a pamphlet passed out by the police reads, "but chiefly because it's an opportune time for crime ... Do your part to make the holidays a safe and happy time for everyone -- except criminals."