The holiday shopping season officially began today with Black Friday and with it came the launch of Operation Safe Shopper, a Harker Heights Police Department 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.”
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, (officers) on bicycle and on foot,” Gentry said.
Officer Betiale Hawkins is one of the many officers assigned to Operation Safe Shopper. He said he believes the program deters crime, as he has not had any bad experiences with criminals while working with the program.
“But if I do, I’ll handle it.”
Hannia Arroyo, senior team leader at Target in Market Heights, said the police presence makes their customers and employees feel much safer during the holidays.
“We’ve seen them come out late at night to walk our support people to their cars during the late hours we have at the holidays,” she said. “And we see them patrolling on bikes and sometimes we see officers inside the store too. We, as team members, do feel safer.”
Arroyo has not heard any negative comments from customers about the increase in officers during the holidays, leading her to believe that no news is good news.
“So I think they’re happy, too.”
The department has conducted Operation Safe Shopper since Market Heights opened in 2008. Lt. Loretta Fox said just about every member of the police force participates in the program every year.