TAMPA (FOX 13) - The Tampa Police Department launched its annual "Operation Secret Santa" Tuesday, during which officers increase patrols of mall and shopping center parking lots during the holiday season.
Until New Year's Day, officers will be on motorcycles, bicycles, horseback or inside their cruisers, looking for anyone suspicious and anything that might make someone an easy target.
"The biggest problem that we face sometimes in crime in this particular area is maybe the sense of security," said Capt. Barry Moskowitz. "This is a nice mall, [so shoppers might think], 'I'm going to walk through the mall, buy several hundred dollars worth of stuff, put it in my car.' [And then they] either forget to lock their door or leave it in plain view."
Officers will be focusing their patrols on Westshore and International Malls and the major shopping areas along Dale Mabry Highway.
TPD said Operation Secret Santa has been a success since it started in 2004; according to department statistics, 67 total shoppers had items stolen out of their vehicles that year. That number was down to eight last year.
"We have plenty of policemen out here and the thieves need to know we have zero tolerance for this. If they're in here committing these crimes, we're going to be on them," Moskowitz said.
Officers said they will also look for any items that have been dropped and attempt to return them to their owners.