Midstate law enforcement offer safe shopping tips

bpurser@macon.comDecember 10, 2012 

  • Safe shopping tips

    • Be aware of your surroundingsSafe shopping tips
    • Shop in pairs or in a group
    • Park in well-lighted areas
    • Lock vehicles, keep valuables out of sight
    • Limit cash, credit cards
    • Report suspicious people, activities
    • Avoid wearing expensive jewelry
    • Carry a small purse close to your body
    • Don’t leave purses, wallets or other valuables unattended in shopping carts
    • Call 911 if suspicions are raised

    Source: Middle Ga. law enforcement

WARNER ROBINS -- Shannon Cobb of Bonaire thought she was a tough target until she was robbed Wednesday afternoon while out Christmas shopping.

The 40-year-old homemaker had her keys in her hand as she left Sears at the Houston County Galleria in Centerville and headed toward her car shortly after 1 p.m. She said she was aware of her surroundings, having noted no one else was in the parking lot.

Suddenly, a man who’d rapidly come up from behind was shoving a gun in her face.

“That’s the last thing I thought would happen,” said Cobb, who wasn’t hurt in the incident.

With the holiday shopping frenzy in full swing, criminals are looking for opportunities to rob and steal, Middle Georgia law enforcement representatives say.

“Unfortunately, criminals take advantage of people getting distracted, which is easy to do during the holiday season,” said Tabitha Pugh, public information officer for Warner Robins police. “There’s a lot on your mind and lots of things to do. Criminals look for easy targets and easy crime.”

Even before the armed robbery at the mall, Centerville patrol officers had stepped up sweeps through its parking lots, police Chief Sid Andrews said. Other agencies, such as Warner Robins police, do the same in major shopping areas.

Malls also have their own security. The Macon Mall is even home to a city police precinct, noted John Gibson, co-owner of Augusta-based Hull Storey Gibson Cos., which owns the mall.

Bill Baker, senior general manager of The Shoppes at River Crossing, said security always is increased during peak shopping times, and personnel are visible on site. Jana Reeves, mall manager for the Houston County Galleria, could not be reached for comment.

Safe shopping

Still, law enforcement representatives say the best way for shoppers to keep safe is to take steps of their own.

“We can have all our police officers on the ready, but people must take responsibility for their own safety to begin with,” said Jami Gaudet, public information officer for Macon police. “And there are so many easy tips that are just mere common sense that will help citizens help protect themselves.”

Among that advice is to be aware of your surroundings. Keep alert, make eye contact, and notice people around you and near your vehicle. Talking on the cell phone and texting are not good ideas because they distract you from what’s happening around you. Be mindful of who is around you when taking cash out of your wallet or withdrawing money from an ATM.

Although Cobb had made a mental note of her surroundings, her assailant apparently hid himself from view -- possibly behind a side of a building or vehicle.

“The advice I have is maybe go in pairs or in groups or shop with a husband or spouse,” Cobb said. Law enforcement representatives agreed.

Criminals are looking for the lone woman or people who seem vulnerable, Gaudet said.

Have someone walk you to your car if you are uncomfortable or feeling unsafe. Andrews suggested asking mall security or calling Centerville police if an escort to the parking lot is needed.

Allison Selman-Willis, public information officer for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, noted the importance of going directly to your car, getting inside quickly and locking the doors before cranking your vehicle.

Law enforcement representatives stressed that people should trust their instincts and call 911 if their suspicions are raised.

“We’d rather check it out than investigate a crime,” Pugh noted.

If you are robbed, comply and don’t fight. Your life is more important, Selman-Willis stressed.

Cobb said she’d barely crossed the street when she had an eerie feeling like someone was behind her. She next heard rapid steps from behind.

“Oh my God, please, no,” she thought as a man suddenly grabbed her right arm and her purse.

She turned to see who it was.

“Shut up!” she recalled the man yelling at her as he shoved a silver gun in her face.

“I let go of everything,” Cobb said. Her packages and keys hit the pavement. “He took the purse right off my arm.”

The man ran. Cobb said she saw him meet up with another man who also was running.

Shaken by the experience, Cobb said she plans to finish her Christmas shopping online. She expects it may take a few weeks or more before she’s ready to venture out shopping again.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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