Is Miss-Lou crime on the rise?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 13, 2001

It was just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 21, and Jay LaSyone of Vidalia, La., was helping his daughters get ready to go over to her grandmother’s house – and at the same time, his truck was warming up in the driveway. &uot;I heard the motor rev up, and I thought something was wrong with my truck,&uot; LaSyone said. &uot;Then I didn’t hear it any more, so I thought the engine had died. Then I went and opened the door, and the truck wasn’t there – it was driving down the street. I thought someone was playing a joke on me.&uot;

Fortunately, LaSyone was able to give 911 a description of the truck, and a Vidalia police officer saw the truck pass, stopped it and arrested the thieves, all within eight minutes.

&uot;But a couple of minutes more, and they would have been out of town,&uot; he said. &uot;Now I’m much more aware. and I don’t leave the keys in my truck any more.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

In fact, most crimes happen when criminals see easy openings – bicycles lying in yards, unlocked doors, women walking through dark parking lots and not paying attention to their surroundings – and take them.

&uot;Very few criminals will go to a lot of trouble to commit crimes – they’re too lazy,&uot; said Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell. &uot;But through our negligence and carelessness, we provide them with the opportunities, and they prey on that.&uot;

But many crimes of opportunity can be prevented by taking simple prevention steps, staying alert and using common sense, said local law enforcement officials.

For example, there are several steps people can take to avoid being assaulted or having their purses stolen in parking lots at night. Maxwell encourages shoppers, especially women and the elderly, to park under streetlights whenever possible, park close to stores and carry credit cards and money in their pockets instead of carrying large purses.

&uot;There’s a person walking maybe 100 yards through the parking lot with a purse on their shoulder that’s as big as a neon sign, and there’s a person walking into the store with nothing,&uot; Maxwell said. &uot;Who’s the criminal going to go after?

&uot;You’d be surprised at the number of people who will take every precaution when they go to a place like New Orleans but not when they’re going to Wal-Mart,&uot; he added.

Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff said that women who do carry purses should carry them with the strap across their body, in the same position that a seat belt would be placed. Clutch purses should be held tightly under one’s arm, he added. And above all, he encourages people to always be aware of their surroundings and to follow their hunches when they see something suspicious.

&uot;We’d much rather go out on 15 calls of suspicious activity and have them turn out to be nothing than one crime that happened because someone didn’t follow their instincts,&uot; Huff said.

Also, no one should leave his vehicle unlocked or place valuables in plain sight in his car. &uot;It only takes 10 seconds to knock that window out, and then (the criminal’s gone), and there are no witnesses,&uot; Huff said.

Also, people should never leave possessions outside, from bicycles left in yards to tools, fishing rods and the like left in garages or carports, Maxwell pointed out. Also, house and vehicle doors should be locked, and keys should never be left in vehicles.

&uot;We were raised to leave the door open at our house and leave the keys in the car, and that might have been fine 30 years ago, but times have changed, and people need to realize that,&uot; Maxwell said.

One step people can take to prevent burglaries at home is to organize a Neighborhood Watch group, teaming up with neighbors to watch each other’s property. Neighborhood Watch members receive easily recognizable stickers to place in the windows of their homes, and Huff believes criminals watch for such signs when choosing a house from which to steal.

&uot;When (a criminal) goes by a house and sees a crime watch sticker in the window and the house next to it doesn’t have a sticker, he’s going to pick the house that doesn’t,&uot; Huff said.

And a person leaving his home for a long period of time should temporarily cancel his newspaper or get his neighbor to pick up the papers, because newspapers stacked in a driveway can serve as a signal to burglars that no one’s at home. And for the same reason, a garage door should not be left open when no cars are inside, Huff said.

Just in case a burglary does happen, people should mark their property with serial numbers, he added. The Natchez Police Department has an etcher the public can use free of charge to etch numbers onto their property, and a police officer will show them how to do it.

&uot;We need to practice good prevention all the time, not just when crimes draw attention to the need for prevention,&uot; Huff said, referring to several high-profile crimes that have occurred in recent weeks, such as a pre-Christmas carjacking at Natchez Mall.

&uot;If you practice these prevention tips every day, they become a habit, just like putting on your seat belt,&uot; Maxwell said.