Staying safe during the holidays

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by Dinesh Patil, Montgomery County 6th District Police Commander

As we enter the holiday season, a host of thoughts come to my mind. Holidays present a great opportunity for fellowship, family and simple acts of kindness that put others before ourselves. Unfortunately, this season also presents opportunities for some in our community to take advantage of us. As the temperature drops, one of the first crimes we see an increase in is auto theft. This is because in an effort to stay warm, people will start their cars and leave them running. This creates an easy opportunity for criminals to get a free mode of transportation with very little effort.

We are seeing an increase in stolen vehicle cases in general where owners are leaving a set of keys in unlocked cars, which our young people are exploiting. Juveniles who go out at night checking for unlocked car doors are finding not only your iPad, loose change and garage door opener, they are also finding your car keys and going for a ride. We have arrested one juvenile in the last 45 days for five separate thefts from vehicles and three auto theft cases. Please do not be a victim; lock it up! If you don’t think it can happen to you, know that I recently caught a person on my security camera checking the doors on my personal vehicles, with a marked police car in the driveway.

Also remember that the holiday season creates opportunities for thefts at malls and packages from your porch. Be vigilant. Lock purchases in your trunk and find ways to avoid having packages sit on your porch all day when you’re at work.

The next immediate thought of this season is the increase in social events, which unquestionably leads to an increase in impaired drivers. It only takes a second for a tragic drunk driving event to occur. In 2015, we lost Officer Noah Leotta to a drunk driving incident, and just last week we had another officer’s vehicle struck by a drunk driver while the officer was assisting with a broken down vehicle. Over 100 people are killed each year in Maryland due to drunk drivers, in addition to numerous crashes with serious consequences. There are many options to avoid driving drunk, including taxis, Uber, sober ride programs, designated drivers and of course, just not drinking if you are going to drive. Our patrol officers and the Holiday Alcohol Task Force is deployed and making arrests every night. Don’t get a free ride to the station!

Holidays should be about people coming together. Now more than ever, the Montgomery County Police Department is strengthening our relationships with the community. We welcome opportunities to work with you and your communities to include neighborhoods, school groups, faith based organizations, the commercial sector and more—together we are stronger. Please let us know how we can better serve you. Our Community Services Office can be reached at I hope that you and your family have a safe and happy holiday season.