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Police Offer Wishes of a Wary Christmas in High-Theft Season

December 18, 1986|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

This will be a Christmas they won't soon forget. Unfortunately.

They are a family of six, living on a limited income in the city of Orange. For the past eight months, the mother has scrimped and saved to buy her four children Christmas presents, one for each child. That's all she could afford because she and her husband are out of work.

But earlier this month, two gifts--a bike for the oldest boy and clothing for one of the girls--were stolen from the family's garage.

"I talked to the mother," said Officer Lynn Forrester of the Orange Police Department's crime prevention bureau. "She was more upset than the kids were. The kids were thinking they could get something anyway. But the husband doesn't have a job. They don't have any money to replace them."

Because the case is still under investigation, Forrester said the names of the victims cannot be revealed. But the family's predicament illustrates a simple fact of life that is easy to forget during the Christmas rush:

'Tis the season to be wary.

If the family in Orange had not left the garage door open, Forrester says, chances are great that the presents would have turned up under the tree on Christmas morning as planned, instead of being listed as stolen property in a police report.

"The months of November and December are always a time when we have an increase of thefts because of the fact people don't take the precautions that they should to deter those out there looking to commit the crime," Forrester said.

Although the number of Christmas present thefts is not high, police officers say, they're not uncommon.

One of Highest Crime Months

"December is one of our highest crime months statistically and we have had incidents in prior years in which these things have occurred --houses broken into and Christmas presents taken," said Lt. Robert Chavez, commander of community services for the Santa Ana Police Department.

"We're always advising people to not put Christmas presents out in open areas of their vehicles because the temptation is there," said Lt. Richard J. Olson of the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "It's a true fact that people break in and steal things they see."

Crime statistics are not broken down to reflect whether a stolen item is a Christmas present; however, the month of December generally shows a rise in the number of burglaries and thefts from vehicles.

In 1985, December ranked as the second-highest month for burglaries in Orange County (behind January), with 3,047 reported residential and non-residential burglaries, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Statistics. Statewide, December ranked as the top month for burglaries, with 41,129 cases.

In Orange County last year, December was the fifth-highest month for thefts from vehicles, with 1,390 reported cases. Statewide, however, December was the top month, with 22,932 reported cases of vehicle burglaries.

Although Christmas packages make attractive targets for thieves, police say presents usually are not the primary magnet that attracts a burglar to break into a house.

"I wouldn't say they prey on presents," said Sgt. Tom Warnack of the Costa Mesa Police Department. "But this time of year, people are going to have packages in their homes. If a burglar is going to break in, it wouldn't surprise me that if he would see something of value he's going to take it (from under the tree)."

A Victim Also

As for the victims, Warnack said, "it upsets them that somebody has burglarized their home, whether it be Christmas presents or anything else. I personally was a victim of a burglary where someone stole Christmas presents out of our home. It upsets the family just as much at this time of year as any."

While houses and cars would seem to be the most obvious places Christmas presents are taken, Forrester of the Orange Police Department warns that people should be just as cautious while shopping.

While doing her own Christmas shopping last weekend, Forrester said, "I noticed so many women walking with their hands just loaded with packages, and they don't even have a free hand if needed to ward off any would-be thieves."

Forrester also has noticed women with baby strollers who stack their packages and purses on top of the stroller canopy. Warns Forrester: "If there's something there that's exposed and it's of value, they (thieves) will take it.

"There is a lot of violent crime associated with these thefts, and that seems to be on the increase," she noted, recalling one case in which a woman with a shoulder purse was walking along a sidewalk in Orange. A car drove up, and one of the passengers reached out and grabbed the woman's purse. The woman held onto it and was pulled to the ground and dragged under the rear wheel of the car.

35,000 Cars a Day

At South Coast Plaza, where up to 35,000 cars pass through the parking lot on any given Saturday or Sunday during December, the potential for vehicle thefts is great.

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