By Karen Zautyk
Shoppers have enough to worry about during the annual pre-holiday frenzy (What the heck can I get for Uncle Ernie? He hates everything. Is my credit card maxed out? Whaddya mean there are no Chia Pets left? Why isn’t this check-out line moving? Where the hell did I park the car?).
The thought of being a crime victim isn’t usually at the top of the list, though it ought to be considering the opportunities crowded stores, distracted bargain-hunters and vast parking lots afford the criminal element.
In this town, though, shoppers should feel a bit more secure thanks to a Kearny Police Department special initiative.
“On Black Friday,” Police Chief John Dowie told The Observer, “we launched our holiday mall patrol wherein additional officers are assigned, in uniform, plainclothes and on foot, to our mall areas.”
These include Walmart, all the Passaic Ave. centers (Kmart, ShopRite, Marshalls, etc.) as well as the shopping areas along Kearny Ave.
Overseeing the holiday-season project is Kearny Deputy Chief George King.
“In my opinion, it has already paid off,” Dowie said. During the first big shopping week, “we didn’t have any thefts of or from vehicles in the lots, we didn’t have any purse-snatchings, and the volume of shoplifting was less than expected.”
“The concept behind it,” he added, “is to convey a feeling of safety to the shoppers. The uniformed presence also deters crimes, but in the event we do have a crime, we can also provide a quicker response.”
The KPD mall patrols perform other functions, too, such as locating children who have wandered away in the stores and reuniting them with their frantic parents. And assisting motorists who have locked themselves out of their cars.
And while there are still roving vehicle patrols, officers also “go into the various retail establishments and interact with merchants and shoppers and make sure things are going smoothly and safely,” the chief said.
Officers also will monitor the SPEN (State Police Emergency Network) radio frequency, so if a BOLO is issued in connection with a crime in another jurisdiction, they will immediately have the description of the suspect, car, direction of flight, etc., making it easier to spot should it head for Kearny.
Additionally, Kearny patrol cars are equipped with ALPRs (Automatic License Plate Readers), the better to intercept a stolen or unregistered vehicle. “This helps us be proactive, intercepting it before the operator can even get into our mall areas,” Dowie said. And the officers will be forewarned before approaching such a vehicle.
The KPD, although it has earmarked money for this high-visibility holiday initiative, is also getting some “proactive” help from Walmart, Dowie noted. The store, on its own dime, has hired off-duty police officers “over and above its regular internal security.”
The KPD holiday mall project will continue until Jan. 1.
Now, go get those Chia Pets before they are all gone!