Q: With my children getting out of school for the holidays, we may be heading out of town for a few days. What are some precautions my children and I can take to help prevent being a victim during this joyous time?

A: The holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year. Yet, with all of the hustle and bustle going on, people tend to forget there are still criminals out there waiting to take advantage of all of the holiday season’s stresses and distractions. Shoppers in particular can become fixated on finding the perfect gift and in turn become careless and vulnerable to theft and other types of serious crime.

Here are some tips to protect your children:

• Since children are out from school for the holidays, remind them to let parents and/or guardians know where they will be if they leave the house and how long they will be gone. If they go to a friend’s house, tell them or their parents to text you when they arrive. Try to walk in a group, or at least with another friend.

• When walking on the sidewalk, instruct kids to walk opposing the flow of traffic; it’s easier to see strangers passing in oncoming vehicles. If they see the same vehicle pass more than once and they feel uncomfortable, tell your kids to go into the closest business and call the police.

• If a stranger offers them a ride, tell them to say, “No, thank you” and run away into the closest open business.

• Remember, we want to know about anything that happens to your children as much as you do, so please call the SMPD as soon as it occurs. It does no good to wait and discuss whether or not something rises to the level of calling the police. When in doubt, call us!

Here are some crime prevention tips that you should always remember, before, during and after the holidays:

• Always lock your doors and windows even when leaving “just for a minute.”

• If you have an alarm, use it!

• Never leave a house key under a doormat, in a flower pot, or on the ledge of a door; someone will eventually notice.

• Make sure the exterior of your home is well lit, especially entrances and exits.

• Use timers so that the lights, radio, and TV go on and off throughout the residence to indicate that someone may be home.

Safe shopping

• While out shopping, stay alert and be aware of what’s going on around you.

• Park in a well-lighted area, and be sure to lock the car, close the windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts in the trunk.

• Avoid carrying large amounts of cash; pay with a check or credit card whenever possible.

• Deter pickpockets and purse snatchers. Don’t overburden yourself with packages. Be extra careful with purses and wallets. Carry a purse close to your body, not dangling by the straps. Put a wallet in an inside coat or front pants pocket.

• Shopping with kids? Teach them to go to a store clerk or security guard if you get separated.

Protect your car

• Loading up all those gifts in your car is a sign of progress in the holiday shopping. But if those packages are left out in the open, your car has become a likely target for thieves.

• Always lock your vehicle and store all items out of sight. Breaking into an empty car isn’t worth a thief’s time. However, anything left in plain view, from your holiday gifts to spare change, sunglasses, CDs, cell phones or briefcases, may tempt a thief. Don’t leave windows open for ventilation either.

Protect your home

• We all want our homes to reflect the joy of the season, but avoid displaying where they can be seen from windows or doorways.

• Arrange to have packages delivered to a neighbor if you’re not home to receive them.

• Dispose of gift wrapping materials and packaging discreetly. Break down TV, computer equipment, and stereo boxes and place them in recycling bins the evening prior to trash pick-up. Often criminals will spot packaging you’ve discarded and target you for their next burglary. And, remember, if you see someone suspicious casing your alley call the Santa Monica Police Department at (310) 458-8491. If you see a burglary in progress, call 911 immediately.

• If leaving town for the holidays, tell trusted neighbors to keep an eye on your home, and to call police if anyone you are not expecting is seen casing your home.

If a stranger comes to the door

• Criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts. And it’s not uncommon for people to try to take advantage of others’ generosity during the holidays by going door-to-door for charitable donations when there’s no charity involved. Ask for identification, and find out how the funds will be used. If you aren’t satisfied, don’t give. Help a charitable organization you know and like instead.

Taking stock

• Start the New Year by updating or creating your home inventory. Take photos or make videos of items, and list descriptions and serial numbers. If your home is burglarized, having a detailed inventory can help identify stolen items and make insurance claims easier to file.

• Make sure things like TVs, VCRs, stereo equipment, cameras, camcorders, bicycles, jewelry, silver, computers, home office equipment, and power tools are on the list. Remember, check it twice!

Celebrate responsibly

• The holiday season is a time of celebration. Drinking and driving is a danger to everyone on the road. Anyone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher is in violation of the law and may be arrested. Remember, the risk isn’t worth it. If you choose to drink alcohol at a party, don’t drive. Have fun, but remember to celebrate responsibly.

Last but not least, don’t let holiday stress get the best of your holiday spirit. Make time to get together with family, friends, and neighbors. And think about reaching out in the spirit of the season and helping someone who’s less fortunate or lonely.

Do your part to make the holidays a safe and happy time for everybody, except criminals.

This column was prepared by Neighborhood Resource Officer Richard Carranza (Beat 1: coastal, beach and pier areas). He can be reached at (424) 200-0681 or richard.carranza@smgov.net.