"We want people shopping in our city to feel safe which is why we conduct this operation," said Sgt. Candy Alvarez with Visalia PD's Property Crimes Unit. About a half dozen of his detectives were driving around stores in unmarked vehicles in pursuit of people attempting to break into cars.
"If it looks like someone's walking around and they don't have any particular business, they're definitely someone we want to watch," said Alvarez. This is the third time this holiday season officers have conducted the operation and each time they've made at least one arrest. "During the holidays, yes, it tends to pick up. People are in need of money, gifts, even the criminals. If they're not working and their line of business is stealing, well they're going to be stealing other people's gifts," said Alvarez.
Vehicle thefts have been a concern in Visalia. 259 cars were reported stolen in the month of November - down from a year ago when more than 300 cars went missing. That's a drop officers attribute to the program's success. On Black Friday, 41-year-old Valton Gregg was arrested in the Visalia Mall parking lot on charges of attempted vehicle theft. Officials want to remind people to secure their belongings and lock their cars while they're out shopping.
"You'd be amazed how many people still do not lock their cars, forget to lock their cars or leave very valuable items in plain view," said Alvarez.
"I always put everything in the trunk of my car before I go back in," said shopper Margaret Cathey of Tulare.
Shoppers that Action News talked with said the operation makes them feel secure. "It's good to know that they are out here and it's good to see them on occasion driving through," said Richard Matta of Visalia. Shoppers can expect to see officers in and out of uniform as the holiday shopping season wraps up.