VISTA — Black Friday is the day shoppers hit the stores in droves for the first big sales of the Christmas season. The day also kicks off a yearly spike in crime as would-be thieves scour parking lots for unlocked cars filled with gifts or forgotten purses.
The Vista Sheriff’s Department deployed in force to the Wal-Mart shopping center early Nov. 29 to deter these criminals. From there, they patrolled the stores lining University Drive and the northern reaches of Sycamore Avenue. The event was dubbed the third annual Holiday Watch.
Their primary mission was prevention. Crime Prevention Specialists interfaced with the public and left educational fliers on windshields. The department expanded its audience this year by playing a public service spot at the Krikorian cinema, a first for the watch.
“We just want to be out here to make sure that we’re consistent with our message, making sure people are safe,” Crime Prevention Specialist Carmela Lutz said. “Especially around the holidays because you don’t want to have them ruined.”
The teeth of the Holiday Watch are the patrolling deputies. In addition to stopping robberies, they often find other violations, from minor infractions to drug deals. Thirteen-year veteran Robin Knight said experience is the best guide in determining which people to investigate.
“You can see how people are looking around and just how they’re acting, more or less, if it’s something we should check out,” she said.
The element of surprise can be crucial in stopping crime. This is why Knight and many of her fellow officers patrol on bicycles.
“They don’t really notice bikes,” she said. “We can usually sneak up on them.”
Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Black has been on this patrol three times and he said he has noticed some trends.
“I think people are getting smarter,” Black said. “I think we’ve educated people. Now we don’t find as many purses left in the car, cars wide open. Stuff like that.”
“People like it,” he added. “They enjoy having us out there.”
Police remained at the east Vista shopping centers until 9 p.m. making arrests and handing out tickets. Over the next month, the Holiday Watch will continue at other commercial centers throughout the city with at least one planned return to the Wal-Mart area.