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Police step up holiday-season patrols to cut down on drunken driving, thefts

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Police across the region are beefing up patrols, adding DUI checkpoints and stationing undercover officers at major shopping centers in an effort to curb three things that for them are more common than snow on the holidays: shoplifting, drunken driving and robbery.

The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office typically has one sobriety checkpoint a month, but it will have more in December and January to discourage drinking and driving after holiday parties, said Kraig Troxell, a sheriff's office spokesman. Montgomery County also will increase enforcement on the roads, and officers will keep a special watch for parties with underage drinkers, said Cpl. Dan Friz, a Montgomery police spokesman.

"One of the problems that we have with underage drinking is the evolvement into car crashes that sometimes the kids die in," Friz said. "We just want to keep the children safe, hopefully prevent a tragedy and get everybody safely through the holiday season."

Charles County is launching one of the region's more aggressive holiday initiatives. The sheriff's office is putting an additional 15 officers, a 25 percent increase, on patrol every night through New Year's Day, pulling in command staff officers to help.

The agency is also enlisting high school students to canvass shopping center parking lots in search of vehicles with valuables in plain view that might become theft targets. The students will place a notice on the vehicles' windshield, warning their drivers of the dangers of such behavior, the sheriff's office said.

"We are increasing the patrols to deter everything from shoplifting to robberies," said Diane Richardson, a sheriff's office spokeswoman. "Nothing is too small scale."

Charles is also stationing plainclothes detectives at shopping centers to catch shoplifters and burglars in the act, Richardson said.

Prince George's County is undertaking similar efforts during the holidays, increasing patrols by about 35 percent. Using grants to cover the overtime costs, the department is paying 60 additional officers to work weekends at shopping centers and 50 additional officers to work Wednesday through Sunday on patrol, said Capt. Misty Mints, a police spokeswoman.

Since September, 215 administrative officers and those in specialized units have also been redeployed to patrol, she said. The idea is to deter potential criminals by having them see officers in shopping centers and neighborhoods.

"It is the holiday season, and we want to make sure the residents are comfortable and there's a visible presence that police are there," Mints said. "Also, if they need assistance with anything, officers are right there. They don't have to wait for a response time."

Even the Internet Crime Complaint Center, an FBI-National White Collar Crime Center partnership, is getting in on the holiday act, albeit through education rather than enforcement. The agency issued a news release this week warning online shoppers that they, too, can be targets for theft, particularly if they use less-than-scrupulous Web sites.

"Cyber criminals continue to aggressively create new ways to steal money and personal information," the FBI warned. "Scammers use many techniques to fool potential victims including fraudulent auction sales, reshipping merchandise purchased with a stolen credit card and sale of fraudulent or stolen gift cards through auction sites at a discounted price."

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