"With the holidays upon us, we are asking people to take extra precautions," said Capt. Jim Hailey of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety.
"Crime typically goes up a little bit so we try to step up patrols," Hailey said, noting that the extra patrols by DPS over the last few years have been effective in keeping holiday crime down along with "things people can do to help themselves so they do have a safer Christmas."
During shopping trips to more than one location, area law enforcement officials advise keeping keeping shopping bags out of plain view.
"Make sure to keep packages in the trunk, lock the car up and take your keys with you," Hailey said. "And don't leave your kids in car."
Hailey also advised against leaving purses or other personal items in unattended shopping carts.
"Ladies should keep their purses on them," agreed Paul A. Johnson, Charleston's chief of police. "It's good not to leave your purses in shopping carts."
When exiting stores, "be aware of who is around you," Johnson said. Be wary of strangers walking up to you or your vehicle as you return from shopping. "There are people out there who will try to snatch everything you've got," Johnson said. "Be a little safer, be aware of everything that's around you."
"If your shopping at night, stay in well lit areas," Hailey said.
Even without gifts visible inside, cars are often targets for thieves. CD players, CDs and cell phones are among the items regularly reported stolen from vehicles.
"Those things you want to try to take out of your car even when you are parked at your residence," Johnson said.
Those who have removable faces for their car stereos should take them inside with them. "Don't give them a reason to want to break into your car," Johnson said.
Residents should also take care to make their homes less of a target for thieves.
While some people like to have their Christmas tree visible in their front window with all the gifts around it, this can attract burglars in addition to the "oohs" and "ahhhs."
Capt. Jerry Bledsoe of the Scott County Sheriff's Department advised residents to "not make it easy to walk up and see all your Christmas gifts around the tree."
"If you leave your residence, leave a couple of lights on - make it appear like someone is there," Johnson said. "We see a lot of home burglaries, business burglaries this time of the year. It usually starts just before Thanksgiving and continues all the way up to the first of the year."
"Take normal precautions," said Bledsoe. "Don't let your mail and newspapers accumulate."
The Sheriff's Department will also step up their patrols with the Scott County Sheriff Reserve unit pitching in manpower.
"Usually we have more in the way of thefts and burglaries at this particular time of the year," Bledsoe said. "It's just a normal thing we do every year. We schedule reserve officers to assist us and extra patrol duties. We patrol certain areas of the county at key times when people are going to church or elsewhere during the holiday season."
Residents can call the Sheriff's Department or their local law enforcement agency and advise them of when they will be away from home so they can keep a closer watch.
Not all thieves show up in person, however.
"This time of the year we seem to have an increase of scam type activity," Bledsoe said, such as calls asking for donations. "Just be very cautious about those particular kinds of things."
Hailey said this is also a time to take fire safety precautions. Those who use live Christmas trees "need to make sure they're well watered," Hailey said.
Holiday lighting also should be done with care. "Use only extension cords that are rated to do the job," Hailey said. "Don't use lights that show obvious signs of shorts such as having to move the cord to get it to come on."
"Don't run cords under rugs or near combustibles," Hailey said, adding that he has seen the results of fires caused by electrical cords under rugs. "They walk on it and it wears the insulation away."
Leaving decorative lights unattended also increases the risk of a serious fire. "Turn off all interior decoration lights when leaving or going to bed," Hailey said.