Staying safe through the holidays with the El Cajon Police Department
Officers from the El Cajon Police Department have a few tips for you. And they were out with helpful information at El Cajon’s Parkway Plaza shopping center, with the opening of the department’s Holiday Storefront for the last two weeks of 2014. Tips are about keeping yourself and your family members safe during the holidays and throughout the coming New Year.
This is the eighth consecutive year that the department staffed its Holiday Storefront at Parkway Plaza. Its purpose—to provide a greater connection with the public, extend community outreach with safety information, and offer enhanced police presence at the mall for assistance and for deterring holiday shopping-related crimes of opportunity.
Samantha Scheurm is the department’s police services officer who put together operations at the storefront. She said that the program has remained the same over the years, although the location within the mall has changed based on available space. She said that this year’s site across from the interior entry to Wal-Mart has been a good one for attracting visitors.
“Every day here is different,” she said. “This is very interesting. The people who come in like meeting the officers in person and seeing that there is a face behind the badge. And the kids love it.”
Scheurm described one impressive young man who had come by a few days earlier, a little boy about four years old who had asked especially perceptive questions.
Children were indeed a particular focus of the holiday storefront’s attention and outreach, from video slideshows of the department’s Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team in action and training, to the authentically restored replica of an original 1942 El Cajon Police Department patrol car, to a child-friendly toy telephone for practicing 911 emergency calls.
Travis Howard, an officer with the El Cajon Police Department, was one of 10 among the personnel manning the storefront on multiple days. He usually serves as a Bike Team officer. He was enthusiastic about the program, for its positive effects on department police officers and on members of the public they are sworn to protect.
“We started this on Dec. 18, when there were tensions from incidents in Ferguson and then in New York,” he said. “I was very surprised by the reaction of the citizens of El Cajon. They went out of their way to offer support and thanks to us for what we do. We’ve had a huge outpouring.”
“Unless you live in a bulletproof bubble, you cannot guarantee you won’t be shot by someone pulling up next to you at an intersection. But we are trained in officer safety procedures, and we follow those all the time,” he said concerning the assassination threats against police officers. Scheurm further noted that no specific threats have been issued against law enforcement officers anywhere in San Diego County.
Howard recounted two heartwarming practical expressions of pre-Christmas support for the local police from this year’s storefront. One man had come by and pressed a door hanger into Howard’s hand. Initially Howard thought of throwing the packet away, but on looking inside he found a personal note of thanks accompanied by $100 that the donor asked officers to distribute randomly in $20 gifts to five citizens in El Cajon. Another donor gave $100 with similar instructions to a motorcycle officer, who handed one of those five $20 surprises to a female pedestrian, who had crossed three streets in succession by following traffic lights correctly.
Officer Ryan Briley, also on hand at the storefront, is a crime prevention specialist. He expanded on that last choice of holiday gift recipient as important because a “huge issue” for El Cajon officers is that people are not using crosswalks to navigate across streets, elevating the risk of pedestrian-vehicle collisions in which the person on foot was at fault. In response to this rash of bad pedestrian-ship, the department has created a brochure and campaign entitled “Check Before You Step,” educating members of the public that walkers do not always have the right of way and that pedestrians must obey the rules of the road as much as motorists must. The informational brochure contains the hypothetical vehicle code violations ticket that the eponymous “jaywalker” could receive for failure to yield to a car, for traversing traffic outside a crosswalk and for crossing when “do not walk” is flashing.
Briley outlined another big problem issue for the local police force as vehicle burglaries, which are among the highest of reported crimes in the area. He advised people to make sure they do not leave valuables in plain sight, even in a locked car or truck
“It takes only a few seconds for a criminal to break a window and grab expensive sunglasses or electronics or packages left behind. Those crimes are rarely solved,” he said.
He described an incident from Dec. 28, in the parking lot outside Parkway Plaza, in which a woman who was leaving the mall got distracted with her cell phone and had her purse snatched.
Information packages from the Fire and Recreation Departments were available to storefront visitors, with emphasis on facts and programs geared toward children. Other focuses of attention were fact sheets on disaster preparedness, alcohol-impaired driving, “lock out” crime tips for both homeowners and apartment dwellers, safety instructions for “home alone” youngsters until parents return, including family guides for safe use of cell phones and online sessions. The storefront further provided information on setting up a neighborhood watch program and solicited volunteers for Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol membership.
Two El Cajon Police Department officers are permanently assigned to Parkway Plaza throughout the year, in cooperation with the city and the mall’s operators. More information on these safety tips and other crime prevention programs can be acquired at the El Cajon Police Department, 100 Civic Center Way, contacted by phone at (619) 579-3311 or online at www.elcajonpolice.org.