CLEARWATER (FOX 13) - Black Friday is the unofficial kick-off of the holiday shopping season and while you're focused on finding the perfect gift and scoring deals, local law enforcement is working to keep you safe.
"I've been doing this for 25-years and sometimes just the presence of the police makes people go someplace else,” said Clearwater Police Sergeant Christian Zarra.
In Clearwater, officers are doing enhanced patrols at all the malls and shopping areas. Police say with more people out shopping, and parking lots packed full of cars, retail thefts and vehicle burglaries spike. The department wants criminals to know they're watching.
"We have officers not only in undercover cars, we have them in marked patrol cars, we have them on foot within the mall, outside the mall," Zarra said.
To keep yourself from becoming a victim, officers say it’s smart to park in well-lit areas, walk with a buddy if you're hitting stores after dark, and be aware of your surroundings.
You can also avoid being a target by making sure you lock your car doors, and keep any gifts you buy or valuables out of sight in your trunk.
At Westfield Countryside Mall, police also have an eye in the sky. Inside the mobile surveillance tower, police have a 36-degree view and they're on the lookout for any suspicious activity.
"We're looking for people that may be loitering in the parking lot a little too much, looking into vehicles, maybe trying door handles, things like that,” said Clearwater Police Officer J. Gibson. “We're gonna be able to key in on them."
Officials urge shoppers to slow down and stay calm while out and about. And if you see anything that seems out of place, call police.