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Posted: December 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Officers urge safety during Thanksgiving

Black Friday also a bad day for accidents

 What is meant to be a time of togetherness and giving thanks can easily turn into a nightmare if residents are not mindful of their surroundings and property this Thanksgiving, according to officials at the Georgia State Patrol, Covington Police Department and Newton County Sheriff’s Department.

Troopers from the GSP have said they plan on having extra patrols on the highways during the holiday, but will not divulge any specific areas where they may be focusing their efforts. They urge drivers to be aware of their surroundings, and of course, not to drink and drive.

The Covington Police Department will be stepping up patrols during the holiday and also working with congested traffic that is expected on Black Friday (Nov. 28), since the day after Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Lt. Wendell Wagstaff said that driver’s should be mindful of one another and foot traffic – especially children. He also suggested shoppers remember to lock their doors on their vehicles and not to leave packages and purses in plain sight, but to lock them in the trunk where would-be thieves cannot readily see what might be available, a sentiment NCSO Sheriff Joe Nichols echoes, adding that citizens should remember to secure their homes as well.

"This time of year it isn’t uncommon for two people to work as a team in the stores," Wagstaff said. "One person may distract a shopper while the other person grabs her purse. Just be aware of your surroundings and what’s going on around you."

The CPD also has officers working in the stores and surrounding areas that appear to be regular shoppers but are, in fact, officers dressed in civilian clothing.

"We’re all beefing up our patrols and making sure that calls are being answered in a timely manner. We’re trying to prevent criminal activity with high visibility," Wagstaff said.

The NCSO is urging people to be very careful with their credit cards and to use cash when a purchase is small or with a vendor they aren’t familiar with due to the increase in credit card and identity fraud.

"In general people need to be extra cautious across the board," he said. "Crimes against property are always heaviest between the day after Thanksgiving and the week after Christmas."

Both the NCSO and the CPD warn shoppers against shopping in areas they aren’t comfortable in just because there may be a sale going on. They also suggest that if shoppers notice people mulling about their vehicle after dark and those people don’t leave after a few moments, the citizen should call 911 for assistance.

"That’s what we’re here for," Wagstaff said.

"I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say ‘I was going to call you but I didn’t want to bother you if nothing was going on,’" Nichols said. "That’s what we are here for. And most times, if you feel like something is not right then it probably isn’t.

"We stay extremely busy this time of year," Nichols continued. "But we would rather investigate five or six complaints that turned out to be nothing that have one crime actually happen, and when people are aware of their surroundings and call us or the police department if they feel uncomfortable, it can help us eliminate that from happening."

The Covington Police Department can be reached for non-emergencies at (770) 786-7605 and the Newton County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at (678) 625-1400. For emergencies call 911.

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