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Ah, Thanksgiving -- good food, visits with family, a time to be thankful.

But the day after Thanksgiving? It can be a nightmare, at least for crime victims. It’s not only the busiest shopping day of the year; experts say it’s also the peak day for crime, a day when criminals are most likely to pounce.

A victim we’ll call “Jen” learned this the hard way. While shopping at a local Wal-Mart one November, Jen took her eyes off her purse for just a moment -- but long enough for a watchful thief to snatch it.

“I was bent over, reaching down for cat food,” Jen says. “I’d left my purse in the child seat part of the buggy. I didn’t even realize it was gone until I got to the check-out counter.”

At the moment the purse was taken, Jen had her checkbook -- with credit cards safely tucked inside -- in her hand. However, the purse still contained her house and car keys.

“There was a wallet in there, too,” Jen says. “However, it didn’t have anything in it.”

Jen later learned that the thief removed the wallet and hurriedly threw the purse in a corner. The purse and the car keys were recovered, but the wallet was gone.

“Can you imagine what the thief must’ve thought when he opened that wallet and it was empty?” Jen says. “I carried it just for sentiment’s sake.”

Although the story has a humorous ending, Jen realizes she was lucky. She spent a long afternoon without her keys, and she knows her inattention could have cost her more than an empty wallet.

“A friend of the family had just died,” Jen says. “I had to go to work that afternoon. I was so preoccupied, I really wasn’t paying enough attention, and that thief knew it.”

Ronnie Cline of Southeast Crime Prevention in Atlanta, a 15-year veteran of law enforcement, travels throughout the Southeast to present crime prevention seminars. He recently spoke at Armstrong Atlantic State University.

“For the first 15 to 30 minutes when you’re listening to the news, all you hear are things about crime. As a society, we’re becoming numb to that,” Cline says. “Many of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, do not really believe we’re vulnerable. We think violent crime will not touch us.”

SECP, a non-profit agency, focuses on prevention of crime by educating people to stay safe. One of the main causes of crime is the continuing proliferation of drugs, Cline says.

“The fastest growing drug in the ‘70s was marijuana,” he says. “In the ‘80s, it was cocaine. The fastest growing drug of the ‘90s was heroin. Today, the fastest growing drug in Georgia is crystal meth.”

The average meth user is 16, Cline says. The demand for meth is so huge that one dealer was caught driving a portable lab, cooking meth as the truck sped down the road.

“They use paint thinner, brick cleaner and fingernail polish remover to make that stuff,” Cline says. “What idiot puts paint thinner on a stove and cooks it? That’s why there are so many explosions associated with making methamphetamine.”

Another drug, dipstick, has emerged.

“It’s marijuana dipped in embalming fluid,” Cline says. “The people who use it are highly volatile, very agitated and abusive.”

Then there’s roofie.

“GHB and Special K, which is ketamine -- a cat tranquilizer,” he says. “These are the date rape drugs.”

Women should always be cautious when drinking in public, Cline says. “Order your drink directly from the bartender,” he says. “Don’t let someone else order for you. If you get up to leave, take your drink with you. When you are at your table, keep your hand over your drink.”

The current economy also causes crime, Cline says. “Today, both mom and dad work,” he says. Many people have lost their jobs.

“Their income goes from up here to down here,” Cline says. “I’ve seen a lot of good people who couldn’t deal with it and turned to crime.”

Gangs also are a major source of crime. “Why is Savannah a good area for gangs? Tourists,” Cline says.

“In the state, the last confirmed amount was 8,000 gang members,” he says. “They are ages 8 to 22 and some gangs recruit kids as early as 6.”

People sometimes scoff at the notion of a six-year-old gangbanger, but Cline says it’s true. “Come with me some time to talk to kindergarten teachers. Let the teachers talk about the times they’ve had to call the police in to subdue a six-year-old child,” he says.

“One gang wanted a six-year-old because they needed a hit man. They sent the kid out to do a hit,” he says. “The man looks out and sees a six-year-old boy, so he opens the door and the kid shoots the man dead. However, he had the wrong house.”

Gang initiations also are a source of worry, says Cline. “Some require violent activities as a part of the initiation that include rape, murder, and, particularly popular in Georgia and the Southeast, home invasions,” he says.

“They select a home at random and send five to six gang members, but only one goes to the door,” Cline says. “When the door is cracked, the others charge in and force it open.”

One elderly couple opened their door and were attacked. “Four gang members beat the man, stole cash and an automobile.” Cline says. “They made the woman conduct sexual acts. When they were caught, they all four were just 15 years of age.

“I’m not sharing the story to intimidate or upset you,” Cline says. “I’m letting you understand the fact that violent crime is real.”

There are ways to protect your family, Cline says. “Develop a family plan so that if you find yourself in a situation, everyone knows what to do,” he says.

“You should be aware of everything around you in a 5-6-foot perimeter. There is as much crime in broad open daylight as there is at night, but people can walk up close or put their hand on you in daylight.

At night, you are instantly aware if anyone has come into your perimeter,” he says.

“Ladies, when you’re out, be aware if someone is watching you. When a criminal picks a target, he looks for someone who’s timid or shy,” he says. “If you see someone watching you, make brief eye contact. Send them a message, ’I see what you’re doing. I’ll be watching you.’”

When confronted by a criminal, he says in most cases it’s best to cooperate. “If you ever get in a situation where you’re looking down the barrel of a gun, you get a complete attitude adjustment. If you find yourself in that situation, do not ever give the criminal any grief. Keep your mouth shut, give them want they want and get out of the situation.”

But there’s one situation where Cline fully advocates non-cooperation.

“If a criminal wants something, give it to them, but if they try to take you somewhere, it’s a whole new ballgame. Don’t let them take you anywhere,” he says.

“If they want to rob you, give them what they want and get out of there. If they want to take you somewhere, yell, kick, scream,” he says.

“Don’t gouge, scratch or poke them with car keys. Some of these people are shooting up narcotics and that won’t bother them. If nothing else, simply go limp. They’re not going to take their gun, put it in their pants, reach down and pick you up and carry you off.”

These tips are especially important as the holidays approach. “The peak crime period starts the day after Thanksgiving,” Cline says. “More people are walking around with money in their pockets than any other time of the year.”

The incidence of sexual assault also rises during the holidays. “Studies show most sexual assaults occur because the women are alone,” Cline says. “If one adult is with them, the risk of assault drops 60 percent. One other adult, and it drops more than 90 percent.

When you take children shopping, Cline asks, “How vulnerable are you when you are putting them into a car seat? Who goes first? The child, then the groceries,” he says, answering his own questions.

“Men do it, too. We do it so they won’t run around, because someone might snatch them. But if a carjacker comes along, what do they get? A car with a child in it,” Cline says. “Packages should go in the car first, children second and you go third.”

Counseling the use of fanny pouches, Cline says women should “put your purse in the trunk before you leave home.”

As for men, Cline says an easy way to keep pickpockets from taking their wallet is to put a rubber band around it.

“When the wallet is pulled against the cloth, you will feel it tugging,” he says.

Experienced pickpockets will bump a target intentionally to find out where they keep their money. “You grab that pocket to see if your money is still there. Criminals watch this and know which pocket the money is in,” he says.

Cline says one of the biggest scams now involves people standing in line paying with credit cards.

“The criminal stands behind them with a camera phone and snaps a picture of the credit card. All they need are the number, expiration date and type of card to use it.”

Christmas offers its own set of temptations for criminals. Cline says many people decorate their tree, then leave the drapes open so it will be visible.

“If you want packages under the tree on Christmas day, don’t advertise them,” he says.

He says even the boxes the gifts come in can be problematic.

“On Christmas day when you open your gifts, what do you do with the boxes? You put them outside on the driveway. A criminal comes by. He sees boxes for a new computer, a flat-screen TV and he knows who has them. Take the boxes, turn them inside out or leave them in the garage until trash day.”

Cline offers a number of creative solutions to potential problems.

“Go to your computer, make a sign, laminate it and put it in front of your home,” he says. “The last person who leaves puts out the sign, which reads, ‘No Solicitors, Day Sleeper.’ Who is most likely to work nights? The father. What type of job might he be doing at night? A cop.

“There are intercoms that cost $15 to $50,” Cline says. “Hang one at the front door and one outside. When someone comes to the door, don’t open it. Talk through the intercom.

“Tell your children not to say they are home alone. Have them say their father is asleep because he works nights as a cop.”

Should the worst-case scenario occur and someone breaks in your house, he says don’t just stay inside the house and pretend you’re not there.

“If you’re awakened because the security system has gone off, grab a weapon and turn on a light,” he says.

“Designate a safe room -- a bedroom, bathroom or small closet. If you have children, the safe room shouldn’t be your bedroom. The child’s room that is the farthest should be the safe room. Go to the safe room, gathering your family with you as you go. Lock yourself in.”

Roadside trouble provides its own genre of crime-fighting tips.

In the “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” department, Cline counsels the common sense idea that you should keep your vehicle in good shape, so there won’t be any unexpected breakdowns at all.

However, should your car break down at night, Cline says “turn on the dome light. Police officers won’t stop at every abandoned car, but they’ll stop if they see a dome light.”

“If a Good Samaritan stops, ask them to call the police for you,” he says. “Don’t let them help you by changing a tire or giving you a ride.

As for utilizing your Second Amendment rights, Cline says some people do arm themselves, and while that is their right it’s important to always be cautious.

“Most people carry their guns in their cars but most attacks happen between the building and car,” he says. “The gun won’t do any good if it’s locked in the glove compartment.”

Cline also has some key points to remember about defending your home with firearms.

“If you want a gun for the house, we recommend a good old-fashioned shotgun,” Cline says. “You don’t have to do target practice. You just point it in the general direction. One thing a burglar never wants to hear is a cocking sound.”

In any event, if you anticipate using a firearm you prepare yourself for that eventuality. “People must learn how to shoot a handgun. They must commit to target practice,” Cline says.

As the director of the Chatham County Victim-Witness Assistance Program, Helen P. Bradley sees crime victims every day. She adds a cautionary note to Cline’s message.

“We can do everything exactly right, yet still be victims of crime. We don’t like to blame victims, but we also want everyone to do everything they can to stay safe,” Bradley says.

“We can always walk with someone at night. We can trim the bushes around our house. We can leave the lights on. We can have an alarm system. There are tons of things we can do.”

The Rape Crisis Center has many educational programs designed to keep people safe. “We have a program for every age,” says Rape Crisis Center Director Mary McAlister.

Good Touch, Bad Touch is for kindergarten through sixth grade,” she says. “We talk to them in kid language. We make it really clear for them to understand.

“We teach them that sexual abuse is when someone tries to trick you or force you to let them touch your privates or trick you or force you into touching their privates,” McAlister says. “We tell them where their private parts are.”

The children also are taught the Body Safety Rules: It’s your body; trust your feelings; say no and get away; tell someone and if you tell someone who doesn’t believe you, tell someone else;

and it is never your fault.

The center also does bullying prevention in area schools. “Often some of the same kinds of behaviors bullies use can lead to sexual harassment,

even rape,” McAlister says.

“We teach kids how to defend themselves from bullies, that there is safety in numbers,” she says. “That program has been so popular, that Ron Roberts, our prevention coordinator, has been asked to come to the schools to meet with groups of bullies.”

Sexual harassment also is a problem in school settings. “It’s amazing how much it happens in the schools,” McAlister says. “We teach kids how

to address it. We also help them realize the difference between flirting and sexual harassment. You might think it’s flirting, but if she’s getting angry, that’s not flirting.”

Rape awareness courses are available for adults, as well as students. “When we do it in schools, we like to do awareness training for parents, too,” McAlister says.

“In any class, there is someone who has already been abused and someone who will be abused,” she says. “That is the advantage of having Rape Crisis do this training.

“We have an available support system when people discuss it,” McAlister says. “It’s very common with the school or community groups for someone to say, ‘That’s what happened to me.’ We have the whole cadre of victim services -- the crisis line, advocacy through the court system.”

The Rape Crisis Center also offers a two-night self-defense class for women. The course extends over two nights, with three hours of training each night.

“The first three hours are about the dynamics of sexual assault, what happens before the attack,” McAlister says. “Most rapes are planned. He has a scenario in mind. He knows what makes us vulnerable, easy targets. Is it just because we are alone or because we trust him and accept a ride with him? Most of the time. it’s someone they know.”

No matter the age group, the training often is the same. “What we say to kids about the uh-oh feeling, we have as adults, too,” McAlister says. “Something about him makes us uneasy. He’s staring or he’s standing in our space. He’s not being respectful. There are lots of clues. Get out of the situation before something happens.”

The second session gets physical.

“We teach them not to freeze with fear or feel helpless,” McAlister says. “Do something quick and dirty and get away. People come away from the class with a feeling of empowerment.”

There are steps everyone can take to prevent sexual assault. “Body language has a lot to do with it,” McAlister says. “He’s looking for someone who’s not paying attention, not alert. Think about the way you stand. Make eye contact.

“Trust your feelings,” she says. “Even when we get that feeling, so often we ignore it. One thing leads to another. So many women have said that after an attack, that they had an uncomfortable feeling.”

The Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department also offers safety tips to the public. Each precinct has crime prevention officers who are available on an appointment basis to come to your home or business, inspect it for security and give you advice on how to better protect you, your family and your belongings.

The officers will show you how to properly mark your larger valuables for identification and how to make an inventory list. The department also has an extensive list of hints on its website at, says Sgt. Mike Wilson, SCMPD Public Affairs Unit Commander.

Crime victims do get careless. “Particularly during the holidays, when people are out shopping,” Wilson says. “Most are busy, and they’re not really alert. They’re preoccupied over things They leave their cars unlocked, the keys in the ignition. They park in poorly lit areas.”

Always remember to take your keys and lock the vehicle. “Roll up your windows, take your bags, make sure if

you are traveling that you travel in pairs.” Wilson says. “Park in well-lit areas. Ask mall security personnel to walk you to your vehicle.”

While reiterating that “we tend to get a little lax during the holidays,” Wilson says the fact remains that “There’s a predatory element out there. I think they can be anywhere at any given time. Remain vigilant year-round.

“Criminals don’t just zero in on one particular area,” Wilson says. “Most criminals look for every opportunity.”

If you’re interested in taking one of the Rape Crisis Center’s courses, call 233-3000 to get a schedule .To arrange an appointment to have a crime prevention officer from the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department discuss home or business security, call your local precinct at these numbers:

Westside Precinct: APO Dianne Williams and Cpl. Yvonne Taylor at 651-6573. Downtown Precinct: Cpl. Willet Williams at 651-6990. Central Precinct: Cpl. Tony Lopez at 651-6931. Southside Precinct: Cpl. John Simmons at 351-3400.

Islands Precinct: Ofc. Cynthia Kight at 898-3252 . Skidaway Precinct: Cpl. Henry Brown at 651-6830.

For more info, visit and click on Crime Prevention Safety Tips.

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