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RPD Grinch-busters hold holiday safety event at Hilltop Mall

on December 7, 2014

If you were a thief, what would be a good time to break into someone’s house?

The Richmond Police Department knows thieves are on the prowl during the holiday season, and held its annual Holiday Safety Event last Saturday to help residents be prepared.

“Leaving big boxes from gifts outside your house is like an advertisement to thieves that there’s stuff to steal in your house,” said Mandy Swirsding, 27, the department’s assistant crime prevention specialist.

Swirsding organized the event at Hilltop Mall, and RPD employees handed out more than 500 flyers to locals shopping for holiday gifts. The flyers had simple tips for people to improve their safety during the holidays.

Burglaries and thefts spike every holiday season, according to police. Homes are vacant when people visit friends and family and leave gifts and other items at home and in cars. Mail carriers sometimes leave boxes on doorsteps. The situation is ripe for thieves and burglars.

“It takes less than a minute for someone to break your car window and get away with your bags,” said Sgt. Eddy Russell of the Property Crimes unit.

Russell oversaw the work of the Police Explorers at the Hilltop Mall parking lot, who stuck “mock tickets” on people’s cars for leaving items in plain view in their cars. The fake tickets are meant as friendly reminders and said things like “If I were a thief, you would be a victim!”

The Police Explorers is a program for high school students “who want to dip their toes in the world of law enforcement,” Swirsding said.

Russell said thieves often stalk shoppers in parking lots to see if they leave stuff in their cars. If you have to make several trips to your car, drive to the other side of the mall and park there, Russell recommended.

“To the thieves, it looks like you’re leaving,” he said.

In the Hilltop Mall parking lot a group of 15 teenagers in police-like uniforms fanned out in groups of three, peeking into car windows. When they saw something a thief might break a window for – like money or smartphone left in plain view – they would write up a “citation” and stick it on the windshield.

While the Police Explorers covered the parking lot, the crime prevention unit covered the inside of the mall.

The flyers they handed out have helpful advice such as remembering to always lock your car doors, always turning on your house alarm, not to send cash through the mail, and to break down gift boxes before putting them outside.

The police at Hilltop were careful to remind people that it’s easier to prevent property crime than it is to recover stolen items.

“Just because your property was stolen in Richmond doesn’t mean it will stay in Richmond,” Russell said.

If stolen property leaves the city it is out of the Richmond police’s jurisdiction and it’s harder to recover, Russell said. Swirsding added that it also helps to have photos of signifying marks on your belongings, like serial numbers.

“Lots of recovered property doesn’t get claimed from police because people can’t identify their stuff,” Swirsding said.

If your property does get stolen it’s important to file a police report immediately, Swirsding said.

Swirsding knows the issue by more than just theory. She had her own personal experience in crime prevention.

When she went to a San Francisco Giants game earlier this year, she parked her car directly under a lightpole in a parking lot. Upon leaving, 15 cars in the same lot had been broken into, but hers was untouched.

“It’s always a good idea to park in well-lit areas and away from bushes,” Swirsding said. “Burglars don’t want to be seen.”


  1. Mark on December 9, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Why is Mandy Swirsding’s age relevant? (Or why isn’t Sgt. Eddy Russell’s?)

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