Manchester police offer safety tips to holiday shoppers
By PAUL FEELY New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER - With Christmas shopping shifting into high gear this week, police are warning people to be aware of their surroundings in stores and parking lots.
"The holiday shopping season traditionally brings with it a sharp influx in visitors to our shopping districts in Manchester," said police Lt. Maureen Tessier. "This increased population of shoppers and extended store hours at retail outlets can lead to an increase in crimes of opportunity related to holiday shopping."
Tessier cited as an example a recent incident at the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant on South Willow Street. A 60-year-old employee reported that a tote bag containing her purse was taken from behind a counter while she was helping customers.
Later the same day, police investigated a purse theft at Market Basket on Elm Street, where a 55-year-old woman said her purse was taken from her shopping carriage while she was looking at merchandise on shelves. Police said they later found Jonathan Fuller, 28, of New Ipswich at Walmart allegedly using credit cards belonging to one of the women. He was charged with one count of fraudulent use of a credit card and two counts of theft.
Tessier said her department is taking measures to help prevent more incidents like these in the coming weeks.
"Our enhanced enforcement initiative will include a multi-dimensional approach involving targeted patrols of the shopping districts, increased traffic enforcement and surveillance operations, with the goal of promoting a safe shopping and travel environment while deterring criminal activity," said Tessier.
Tessier would not definitively say whether the initiative would involve a shopping-cart sting operation like one the department used during the last Christmas shopping season.
Last year, Manchester police arrested Alexander Ramasci in the sting operation on a misdemeanor charge of theft of lost or mislaid property. Police said he removed a purse and merchandise from a shopping cart that police had placed in the T.J. Maxx parking lot on South Willow Street. Ramasci said he never intended to steal the items. He put them in his trunk and planned to go home, identify and contact the owner, then return the items. District Court Judge William Lyons acquitted Ramasci, saying he could not be convicted because the purse and merchandise were not actually lost or mislaid.
Tessier said her department has evaluated that particular operation and the court ruling, but would not say whether similar operations would be conducted this shopping season.
"As always, our goal is to not only deter criminal activity, but identify crimes in progress, arrest the individuals responsible and successfully prosecute those offenders," said Tessier. "We continuously evaluate and assess these efforts to identify and apply best practices that effectively use our resources to accomplish those goals."
Manchester Police Department Traffic Unit Sgt. Andrew R. Vincent offered the following list of safety tips for shoppers:
-- When searching for a parking spot, take the time to find a spot in a more populated and well-lighted area.
-- Lock your doors and make sure your windows are closed.
-- Store items such as GPS devices, radar detectors, computer tablets and other electronic equipment out of sight. Also, hide any power cables or mounts that could tip off thieves that a device is hidden in your car.. Be aware of your surroundings when entering or leaving stores. Look around you, and avoid reading emails or texts while walking.
-- Thieves are on the lookout for shoppers who place purchases in their vehicles and return to the store. The thieves then smash a vehicle window and help themselves to the items. Police recommend shoppers move their vehicle to another area, away from anyone who may have watched your recent movements.
-- Walk with a purpose, don't wander around a parking lot. Keep keys in hand so you can quickly and easily unlock your car. Once inside your car, lock your doors immediately and drive off. Police warn the longer you sit in a car, the more chance you have of becoming a target.
-- If approached or chased by a stranger, return to the store or shopping center and alert an employee. Draw attention to yourself by talking loudly or yelling. If you feel threatened or in immediate danger, call 911 on a cellphone.
-- If you are a victim of or a witness to a crime and observe a license plate number on a vehicle involved, immediately enter it into your cellphone and hit "Send." By doing this, the number will be stored in the phone's call log and easily retrieved.