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Police chief optimistic about Santa Patrol initiative to reduce crime

SALISBURY — Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes is optimistic that the numbers will show his department’s holiday initiative to reduce property crime will be successful.

Santa Patrol has officers patrolling neighborhoods and businesses on foot, in vehicles, in plain clothes, and in uniform. Officers also are using drones to deter criminal activity.

The campaign began on Black Friday and will conclude on New Year’s Day.

“So far, it’s doing really well,” Stokes said this week.

He said the department is still looking at the data and will compare the number of property crimes (residential, vehicle and commercial) this year with that in the same time period in 2017, 2016 and 2015.

“We hope to see less,” he said.

Stokes said there has been a reduction in larcenies. Though he said police are not targeting shoplifting, the department felt that a greater law enforcement presence would discourage it. Police believe the numbers will show there are fewer vehicle break-ins in shopping centers.

The feedback from residents thus far has been positive, he said.

Officers have gotten out of their patrol vehicles and gone into stores to talk to managers and interact with customers. One comment from an older shopper was that the police presence was noticable and it made her feel safe.

Walmart customers have asked why there were more officers at the store. One customer thanked officers for the increased police presence.

At the conclusion of shifts, officers have made reports that address the impact of the initiative.

Partnership

The Police Department worked in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice Programs’ Diagnostic Center and decided where the patrols would be focused.

The findings will be gathered and released in a report to the City Council and made available to media.

The Police Department also used Rowan County’s incident command unit to conduct patrol meetings.

The department used drones that “enabled us to do parking lot surveillance from a higher vantage point,” Stokes said.

Most criminals who target parking lots in shopping center usually go around checking for unlocked doors. He said a drone allows officers to watch the parking lot without being obtrusive.

In order to use the drones, two officers had to obtain a license through the Federal Aviation Administration.

The department has also used decoy vehicles designed to catch thieves.

Results

Stokes said if the data show what he suspects — which is a decrease in the number of crimes — the department would certainly have a similar patrol initiative in the future. The ultimate goal is to be able to put officers in the most needed areas.

Stokes reminds shoppers during the holiday season that a big part of the initiative is this mantra: “Lock it, take it or lose it.” The idea is that people should remember to lock their vehicle doors and take valuables with them or they could be stolen.

Saturday is expected to be one of the biggest shopping days before the end of the year.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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