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Clearwater police patrolling to keep shopping safe

CLEARWATER — One driver told a police officer he drove his minivan over a sidewalk, going the wrong direction on a U.S. 19 access road, to escape the "chaos" of the Best Buy parking lot.

Another man said he sped up and abruptly changed lanes because he needed to get over so he could get into a mall parking lot.

A 47-year-old Clearwater man said he ran a red light at U.S. 19 and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard because he was hurrying to a shopping center.

"Rushing to shop isn't worth my life or yours or anybody else's," said Clearwater police Officer Nick Giordano.

The three men were just a few of the more than 100 people that Clearwater police made contact with Friday during Operation Safe Holiday, an annual initiative to promote safe driving during the holiday shopping season. The operation continues today.

"People start getting frustrated with traffic and start driving crazy," Giordano said. "On Black Friday, what I've seen is people have their lists of where they want to go, and that's all that's on their minds and they're rushing from store to store."

Police patrolled local roads, paying particular attention to areas with a history of congestion or crashes.

Officers also were deployed at Westfield Countryside and Clearwater malls to look for shoplifters and hand out safety tip pamphlets and property inventory sheets. The latter allows people to record their belongings with serial numbers and other identifying information that can help police track down items if they are stolen.

By the end of the day, Clearwater police had issued 98 warnings, two moving citations, four nonmoving citations and three criminal citations, said Sgt. Richard Harris.

They also made one felony arrest after motorcycle Officer Michael Hatch stopped a driver for not wearing his seat belt and discovered the man had a revoked license and an outstanding warrant on a probation violation.

By 5 p.m., only one burglary had been reported. Someone smashed an SUV window and stole two laptops outside Dick's Sporting Goods on U.S. 19, Harris said. Police received three reports of shoplifting from Westfield Countryside and Clearwater malls.

The man who drove onto the sidewalk received a warning. He had a clean driving record, a valid driver's license and was properly insured.

He admitted he had made a bad decision. He apologized. He got the point that officers wanted to make at the start of the holiday crush.

"I won't ever do it again," he said.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157.

>>Fast facts

Holiday safety tips

The Clearwater Police Department offers these tips for staying safe:

• Don't shop alone at night, and be aware of your surroundings. Contact authorities if you notice suspicious behavior.

• Keep vehicle windows and doors locked, and don't leave valuables where they can be seen.

• Don't fall for distraction scams, in which strangers approach shoppers and try to distract them while they steal your money or belongings.

• Don't carry large amounts of cash (use credit or debit cards instead), and keep your purse close to your body or your wallet in an inside jacket pocket.

Clearwater police patrolling to keep shopping safe 11/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 25, 2011 8:04pm]
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