“Purse Patrol” reminds grocery shoppers to keep an eye on belongings

FAIRFIELD — Towing a cart of groceries, Angela DeLeon zipped through the aisles at Stop & Shop on a Friday afternoon, looking for unattended purses. But instead of nabbing the bags, she left a warning: A sticker with a watchful eye hazarding, “Keep an eye on your purse.”

DeLeon, a senior crime prevention specialist for People’s United Bank, was running a “purse patrol” to warn grocery shoppers about theft around the holidays. A team of Fairfield Police and Stop & Shop and bank employees patrolled the Kings Highway Cutoff grocery store Dec. 16.

“I try to keep an eye on my bag, I really do,” said Margo Cleveland, a shopper whose purse earned a sticker warning. “I guess something can happen really fast.”

After DeLeon marked distracted shoppers’ purses, simulating the time it would take for a purse to be stolen, police officers explained the dangers of thefts and tips to avoid becoming a victim. The group also gave shoppers whistles for use as an alert system and a brochure of holiday safety tips.

“You’ll see how quickly we can tag a purse, and how quickly I could really take the purse and go,” DeLeon said.

Lt. Robert Kalamaras said that especially during the holidays, shoppers are often distracted and pay less attention to their purses and other personal belongings. It is a time when opportunists are often looking for easy openings to swipe a bag, he said.

When a purse is stolen, greater risks arise beyond the loss of the purse, cash and other belongings inside. With credit cards or an ID, a victim’s identity could be stolen. If keys are inside the bag, a victim’s car and home become vulnerable to theft.

“It takes seconds for someone to wreak havoc on your life with your information,” said Tina Gabriel, of People’s United.

Lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16