- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

The dangers of the holiday shopping season, which started with an attack by a syringe-wielding carjacker, have police increasing patrols and reminding buyers to take precautions.

“Criminals, in general, need more money during the holiday season [so] they steal it,” said Mary Mulrenan, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Police Department.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Pasadena, Md., resident Patricia Dugger was leaving a Kmart in Glen Burnie, Md., in the afternoon when a man armed with a syringe opened her car door and said, “Lady, I’m HIV positive. Give me your car.”

Mrs. Dugger, a 58-year-old Coast Guard specialist, fought with the attacker until he forced her from the car and took her handbag.

“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” she said.

Mrs. Dugger escaped with minor injuries and was not stuck with the syringe.

Police and shopping-center security teams are on the alert for more robberies and asking shoppers to eliminate opportunities for attacks.

“It’s possible that people are so focused on shopping and [dealing with] all the stresses during the holiday season [that they’re] less attentive,” Miss Mulrenan said.

She advised shoppers to park in lighted areas and avoid going to stores alone and at night.

Some area police departments are increasing patrols of shopping centers during the holidays.

The Prince George’s County Police Department announced an initiative Wednesday in which plainclothes officers will be in shopping centers throughout the month.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that citizens feel safe as they shop, celebrate and travel in our county, and that criminals understand that we are not tolerant of their illegal, violent behavior,” said police Chief Melvin High.

Holiday security has reached an unprecedented level in Connecticut and New Mexico, where police, rescue workers and security guards are taking classes on how to spot suicide bombers.

Still, authorities continue to ask shoppers to take their own precautions.

Officer Derek Baliles, spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department, said shoppers should bring only the necessary cash and credit cards, and should avoid carrying too many packages at once.

He also suggested shoppers take packages to their vehicles in intervals and store them out of sight.

“It’s even a good idea to consider moving your car so anyone watching will believe you’ve left the mall,” Officer Baliles said.

Amy Bertsch, spokeswoman for the Alexandria Police Department, said the city also is increasing the number of officers at malls and shopping centers, including those in the Old Town and Del Rey neighborhoods.

She told buyers to avoid the distraction of shopping with young children and suggested putting packages in vehicle trunks, too.

“It’s hard in a crowd to keep track of the kids, your purchases and your wallet,” Miss Bertsch said. “If it’s possible, try to leave the children at home.”

Miss Bertsch said shoppers also are at a greater risk for identity theft during the holidays, and a paper shredder might make an ideal Christmas gift.

Caryn Klebba, a Kmart spokeswoman, said most stores have loss-prevention employees and video cameras that reach parking lots ,but they still rely on police departments for added security.

“We’re a retailer, and we look to our police and local authorities for safety,” she said.

Miss Dugger said she felt safe leaving the store because it was midday and plenty of other shoppers were in the parking lot. But she now will be more careful.

“I just really never stared to see what the people looked like that were milling in and out,” she said. “I never had a reason to, but I do now.”

No suspect has been identified or arrested in the case.

Mrs. Dugger found her 1995 Buick LeSabre intact in South Baltimore the day after Thanksgiving, but is still upset.

“I hated that guy for putting me in that position of being afraid of walking to my own car,” she said.

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