Whether it's reality or just perception, some people who live in Southtown feel victimized by a months-long rash of property crimes, home and vehicle break-ins, and unsavory characters seen casing the neighborhood.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told neighbors at a recent community meeting that two of three convicted burglars working the area had been apprehended and a warrant was being executed to arrest a third identified perpetrator.
NextDoor Lavaca, a highly active neighborhood website that has knit together people who previously were strangers, serves as a daily bulletin board chronicling everything from stolen bikes, kicked in back doors to suspicious characters spotted lurking in the 'hood.
Near-downtown living has its many amenities and charms, but urban core living also comes with the realities of big city crime rashes.
As I procrastinated on my Christmas shopping, I began to think about holiday safety and the common sense measures urban dwellers should take this time of year. After all, it’s supposed to be the happiest time of year, but one incident can ruin the moment for you and your family. It's a terrible feeling to have your home violated by unknown strangers, and yet if it does happen, it likely will happen when you are not at home, either while you are at work or away on holiday travel.
I reached out to the San Antonio Police Department and a few other sources to ask what homeowners, apartment dwellers, and visitors can do avoid becoming crime victims. SAPD Officer Roger Zuniga of the Public Information Office provided a wide range tips to guide us this season, whether we are traveling the roads or surfing the Internet.
"A criminal basically depends on three factors to commit crime; desire (criminal want), ability (criminal skill level) and opportunity (the chance to commit crime). We can't do much about the desire or ability of a criminal to commit a crime, but we can take away the opportunity by following some of these simple crime prevention tips," said Zuniga.
If you’re like my Mom, you’ve gotten all the shopping finished and are just sitting back enjoying the holiday season. But if you’re like me, there are still trips to be made to the stores to get that special something for someone. While malls and stores are crowded, those crowds could also benefit crooks who turn distraction and confusion into their advantage. Here are a few things to help make that trip easy and safe:
- Shop with friends – Planning a shopping trip with friends could be the perfect outing during the holidays. You can compare notes, take in the sights together, and enjoy a meal while you’re out. Doing so makes you a less inviting target in the far corner of a parking lot than if you are shopping alone.
- Keep valuables on you and in safe places – We get distracted while shopping. Leaving a wallet or purse unattended for just a moment is all a thief needs. You can cancel credit cards, but a thief can spend even faster. Don’t keep everything in your wallet. Separate your cash, credit cards, and even your identification.
- Be aware of your surroundings – These days, we talk, text and walk at the same time. If you're checking Facebook in a mall parking lot you are distracted, and vulnerable to a snatch and grab. Stay aware of your surroundings until you reach a safe place alongside a store sales representative or arriving back at home. Your Facebook friends don’t need to know right then that you found an awesome deal on a Duck Dynasty Chia Uncle Si.
- Be aware of your children – There are so many distractions for children during the holidays. When else are stores filled with so many toys and characters and cool, shiny things? That’s why you have to be the adult in the crowd and keep tabs on them. Don’t let them wander. Remind them that if they get separated from you, to ask adults for help in seeking out a police officer or store manager immediately.
Shopping tips online or over the phone
For some, that trip to the mall is just too much. Isn’t that why Cyber Monday was invented? Online shopping online has its risks, too, especially for individuals who do not update virus software. Sometimes that computer slowing down is more than just you forgetting to upgrade the memory. Here are some tips for those shopping in the comforts of home or at the office while the boss is looking away.
- Use familiar shopping sites and look for the lock – By now, most everyone has a web shopping presence. That means more variety when shopping, but it also means more chances of stumbling across those trojan sites or places where your credit card is good, but maybe not their service. While we’re not trying to promote particular shopping sites, you probably know sites you can trust. Stick with those and you have less chances of being the victim. Oh, and if you’ve quit looking for that lock? Shame on you, after all these many years of the Internet.
- Check your statements – This applies not only to online shopping, but after those trips to the mall or stores. I know we’d probably prefer to wait until after Christmas to see what the damage was. But by waiting, you might discover more damage than you actually did during those shopping trips. With online access, it’s so easy to keep track of things before they get out of hand. That diligence will allow you to repair the damage much faster and potentially avoid more damage.
- Keep it simple – The less information you share over the phone or online, the better. Social hacking is a way the bad guys gain access to your information or impersonate you after they’ve gleaned enough. We’ve all been there before, when we forgot our password or something. When calling in, there’s all that personal information you have to reveal to get it back. That’s how third parties gain access to bank accounts or other accounts. Keep the conversation simple and to the point. Give as little as you possibly can. Who wants to spend time on the phone when you can be watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas”?
Traveling during the holidays
If we could only stay home and avoid the highways. But then grandma wouldn’t get the chance to spoil those kids or you wouldn’t have the fun of reliving those childhood memories. Almost everyone travels during the holidays, leaving our castles untended. What can you do when you don’t have a drawbridge to pull up while you’re away?
- Make it look like someone’s home – One of my favorite scenes from the movie, “Home Alone” is the Christmas Party scene, rocking to the sounds of Brenda Lee. But there’s something to be learned in that scene. Use automatic timers to turn lights on and off in the house. Stop the mail, papers, and any other deliveries. Nothing says you’re away from home better than a stack of papers on the driveway or by the doorstep.
- Let your neighbor know – Tell your neighbor you’ll be away from home and give them contact information where to reach you. If someone pulls up in your driveway for any extended period, he or she will be the first to know that’s not right. Besides, they’ll probably want you to do the same.
- Maybe sharing isn’t the best thing – We’ve all seen the stories of someone sharing info on Facebook, only to tip-off the unscrupulous “friend” of your absence. It’s okay to share some things, but maybe it’s best to save those photos of Uncle Fred’s ridiculous Christmas sweater for when you get back home. After all, it’s just as hideous two weeks later.
- Come to the light when parking – If you’re traveling away from home and stop along the way, you probably don’t know the area too well. If you have to park and get out, find a well lighted area to park. Parking in front of convenience stores is much better than on the side. Take the time to find the best place rather than any old spot. Remember, it only takes a second for a crime to be committed.
Officer Zuniga said crime prevention is community affair.
"Each one of us holds the key to crime prevention," Zuniga said. "Do your part to take care of yourself and your property. As a community, look out for one other. When you see something suspicious or that just does not seem right, call police right away. Crime prevention is everyone's business."
There are many more tips to help prevent being the crime victim during the holiday season. Taking these steps and others provided the San Antonio Police Department can make your holiday season happier and keep you out of the crime blotter. That way, you'll have no problem remembering it is the most wonderful time of the year.
Randy Bear is a 20-plus years San Antonio resident, transplanted from Little Rock to join the ranks of USAA in Information Technology. Over the last two decades, he’s been involved in a variety of civic and political activities, including work with San Antonio Sports, KLRN, Keep San Antonio Beautiful, and Fiesta San Antonio. Randy’s political life took root when several friends from Arkansas pulled him into the first Clinton presidential campaign. Since then, he’s been active in politics and government, including a brief period serving on the staff of former City Councilman Reed Williams.