MIAMI (CBS4) — The Miami-Dade Police Department’s so-called “Grinchbusters” are on the job as shoppers descend on malls for Black Friday deals and discounts.

The special task force involves officers who take part in covert and other operations within major malls throughout Miami-Dade County.

That’s to ensure a safe and crime-free holiday for shoppers.

“People need to be aware of their surroundings,” said Major Mark Jeter of the Miami-Dade Police Department, at a news conference outside the Dadeland Mall.

“They need to know if someone is following them. Put packages in trunks, not where people can see them. If a woman is carrying a purse, keep it close to the body. Don’t be an easy target.”

One new measure at the Dadeland Mall includes an “eye in the sky,” a special mobile, sky watch tower that police use to watch the huge parking lot.

Among those on patrol, ten-year veteran, Sgt. Benny Solis.

“You should be aware of any police and security guards that are here,” he told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench during a special “ride-a-long” at the Dadeland Mall. “Unfortunately there are a number of pickpockets here. That’s one of the crimes we’re concerned about. So we ask people, particularly women, to clutch their purses close to themselves.”

Law enforcement officials say they see an increase in crime at shopping malls during the holiday season by people who see the season as an invitation to prey on others.

Normal and Tyler Schwartz say as shoppers, they are always careful with their cash.

“Never let people see a big wad of cash,” said Tyler Schwartz. “Watch out for revealing a big wad of bills. Try to get to your cash in a quick manner.”

And be careful when headed to your car.

“I don’t like to fumble for my keys in the parking lot,” said Norma Schwartz. “I like to have my keys in my hand. I don’t like to fumble through my purse.”

Police have other tips for staying safe as you shop:
Shop during daylight hours whenever possible. If you must shop at night, go with a friend or family member.

• Dress casually and comfortably.

• Avoid wearing expensive jewelry.

• Do not carry a purse or wallet, if possible.

• Always carry your Driver License or Identification Card along with necessary cash, checks and/or a credit card you expect to use.

• Even though you are rushed and thinking about a thousand things, stay alert to your surroundings.

• Avoid carrying large amounts of cash.

• Pay for purchases with a check or credit card when possible.

• Keep cash in your front pocket.

• Notify the credit card issuer immediately if your credit card is lost, stolen or misused.

• Keep a record of all of your credit card numbers in a safe place at home.

• Be extra careful if you do carry a wallet or purse. They are the prime targets of criminals in crowded shopping areas, transportation terminals, bus stops, on buses and other rapid transit.

• Avoid overloading yourself with packages. It is important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion to avoid mishaps.

• Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. At this time of year, “con-artists” may try various methods of distracting you with the intention of taking your money or belongings.

Peter D'Oench

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