Deputies can spot crime from SkyWatch

- The holiday shopping season is officially underway. As shoppers head inside malls hoping to snag the perfect deal, crooks are outside patrolling the parking lot, hoping to snag your belongings.

Clearwater Police have combined forces with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office this weekend to deter criminals around Westfield Countryside Mall. Officers and deputies are manning the "Skywatch."

It's a 25-foot tall mobile surveillance tower that gives officers a 360-degree view of the mall parking lot.

"The bad guys can hide behind cars. This gives us an elevated platform that allows us to see what's going on between a lot of cars to detect subversive activity," said Clearwater Police Officer Michael Hatch.

SkyWatch was purchased by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in 2012 through a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

While officers said the crowd of shoppers on Black Friday seemed smaller than in previous years, they had a chance to put the tool to good use in the early morning hours.

"We had a suspicious person riding around on a bicycle that was going around checking car doors. We were able to locate him and keep an eye on him until he exited the property," said Officer Hatch.

Many shoppers are trying to take their safety into their own hands as well by carrying less bags with them as they shop.

"We bought stuff earlier, went home, dropped it off and then came back," said Angela Altaffer, who came to the mall twice on Friday with her sister. "I don't want my stuff stolen. I work hard for my money."

Others said they're trying to keep valuables out of site.

"We had to come to the car three times so we don't have to hold it [all], but [our] windows are tented," said Maggie Seibert, as she shopped with her mother.

According to Clearwater Police, 82% of all vehicle burglaries in the city occur because people leave their doors unlocked.

Officers are advising shoppers to double check to make sure their doors are locked before entering the mall, in addition to having their keys in hand as they exit the mall to lower their chances of becoming a target for thieves.

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