WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As we were heading to meet Lt. A.J. Bullard, with the West Palm Beach Police Department, he got called to a crime at a busy shopping area.
“We got called to a theft at one of the stores,” Bullard said. “People walked in, worked in a tandem. One person blocks the view, the other person selects the items, hides them behind the bags they walked in the store with, and they leave the store. Most people are in and out in less than a minute.”
Bullard is part of the holiday crime reduction detail.
“We want to be seen we want to be visible,” he said. “Tis the season to be stealing.”
Parking lots, police say, are prime spots for crime during the holidays.
“Most of the time, they (thieves) are backed in, so they can get a quick getaway,” he said. “If you see people sitting in cars in parking lots, you probably just want to stay away from them to be on the safe end.”
Kelly Rabbitt said she saw a distraction theft herself in Palm Beach Gardens.
“It was the middle of the afternoon about 2 o’clock, and something didn’t seem right,” she said. “…They were acting very friendly, were befriending the people, saying ‘Oh you remind me of my grandfather, Oh you remind me of my grandmother.’”
She said it troubled her.
“But at the same time, I was grateful that I was aware that this actually happens, because I wouldn’t have believed it unless I actually saw it,” Rabbitt said.
One piece of advice is to be patient while you are parking. Sometimes that can mean waiting for prime parking spots, which are closer to the shopping center itself.
“Try to stay away from the back of parking lots,” said Lt. Bullard.
Timothy Miller, a former police officer and Secret Service agent who now works as a security expert, said this is becoming commonplace.
“Our entire nation is becoming more crime ridden,” he said. “Distraction crime is particularly troubling, because it preys on the weak and vulnerable, and let’s be clear the more vulnerable you appear, i.e. elderly, distracted, the more likely you are to become a victim.”
He said moms are naturally distracted by the nature of caring for children.
Miller said to keep your thumb on the panic button of your key as you walk in parking lots, carry your bag close into your body, stay alert and off your phone in public, and as soon as you get in your car, lock it.
Bottom line, law enforcement points to being alert and aware.
“Always keep your distance and err on the side of caution,” said Lt. Bullard, “If it doesn’t feel right, look right, it’s not right.”