Criminals take notice this holiday season, the Harker Heights Police Department has eyes and ears all over the place.
With the holiday shopping season officially kicking off today with Black Friday madness and continuing through the week after Christmas, Heights police have launched Operation Safe Shopper — a program designed to deter crime in major shopping areas like Market Heights, Walmart and H-E-B.
“Our primary concern is to prevent crime against the shoppers themselves,” Chief Mike Gentry said. “We don’t want theft in parking lots.”
In the five years the department operated the holiday program, Gentry said there has only been one burglary of a vehicle and the culprit was later apprehended.
This year, Gentry said the program is expanding to the city’s newest retail areas to include Sam’s Club and Rooms-To-Go.
Shoppers can look for the big white recreational vehicle marked with the Heights police department logo in parking lots around the city. Inside, officers are watching surveillance cameras and communicating with uniformed and plain-clothes officers inside and outside stores.
“We have our communications people in the command van, ATVs in the parking lots and police officers on foot,” Gentry said. “We are everywhere. We have a visible and invisible presence.”
Katrino Garcia, senior team leader at Target in Market Heights, said the police presence makes their customers and employees feel much safer during the holidays.
“They help us out tremendously on Black Friday and throughout the holiday season,” he said. “Lucky for us our shoppers are pretty well behaved, but if anyone gets any ideas, the police presence makes them think twice before behaving badly.”
Garcia said customers appreciate the increased police presence as well.
“They do a great job ensuring everyone is safe during the holidays,” he added.
The department has conducted Operation Safe Shopper since Market Heights opened in 2008. Gentry said nearly every member of the police force participates in the program every year.
“Our goal is to ensure shoppers have a pleasurable experience and that they feel safe walking to and from their cars in our retail areas,” Gentry said.