During a time of year traditionally intended to be one of togetherness and giving, the holidays can also coincide with an uptick in crime rates – especially those associated with burglaries, identity theft and drunk driving.
It’s an ugly contradiction, but one that local law enforcement officials say Taos County residents should be aware of and prepared for.
The United States Department of Justice analyzed seasonal crime trends in 2016, finding that the majority of crime across all categories occurred with greater frequency during the summer months. Taos County law enforcement agencies show similar trends over these broad seasonal periods, but local officials also say that in the slice of time during winter, when holiday tunes start playing across store speakers, shoppers start loading their cars with gifts and travelers head out of town to be with family, crime rates hit another peak.
The reasons for this can be several, and according to Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe, following some simple steps can mitigate your risk of being victimized.
Given the high number of financial transactions that take place throughout the holiday season, Hogrefe advised residents to be especially cautious about protecting their identity and credit information and to avoid providing private information over the phone or via a website – unless dealing with a trusted source.
Hogrefe said that the first place where a holiday gift can be stolen is when it is left in a vehicle outside the store.
“Don’t leave valuables in your car,” Hogrefe said, “or at least hide them under your seats or in the trunk. Always be aware of your surroundings and who may be watching you put gifts in your vehicle. Don’t leave your purse or wallet unattended in a shopping car either.”
While out shopping with children in busy, crowded shops, Hogrefe said it can be a good idea to take a photo of a child to note exactly what they are wearing in case they become separated from a guardian.
Once gifts make it home, further steps should be taken to keep valuables safe and out of sight.
“The best thing you can do is to try to make it look like you are home even when you are not by keeping your lights and TV on,” he said.
While winter driving can be dicey due to weather conditions, the incidence of drivers under the influence also tends to increase during the holidays, calling for greater vigilance while on the road.
“Always expect the unexpected when traveling,” Hogrefe said. “Watch out for distracted drivers and pedestrians and make sure every passenger uses their seat belts and children are secured in a car seat or booster seat.”