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Holiday thefts targeted by task force
Sheriff's office aims to keep holiday bright and crime-free
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Several dozen people won't be home for the holidays, locked up as part of a Hall County Sheriff's Office plan intended to ferret out potential gift-stealing grinches in the community.

Some 35 people with outstanding warrants for probation violation, failure to appear in court, property crime and weapons offenses have been arrested since mid-November in a coordinated plan dubbed "Operation Christmas Shield."

Those arrested on probation violations or bench warrants will be held in the Hall County jail without bond and have their Christmas dinner behind bars this year.

The plan is meant to prevent past holiday nightmares, when homeowners discovered their gifts under the Christmas tree had been wiped out by crooks.

"Throughout the years, I can remember several houses that were cleaned out completely," said Lt. Gary Smith. He heads up the crime prevention operation, now in its third year.

"We do see a rise in crime and especially calls for service during the holiday season," Hall County Sheriff's Maj. Jeff Strickland said, noting that the risk of daytime burglaries increases when residents have high-end items in their homes and under their trees.

The plan calls for seven deputies to concentrate their patrols on problem areas in the county that have been hit repeatedly in past Decembers by thefts, auto break-ins and burglaries. The deputies are solely focused on those patrol zones and, for the most part, let other deputies answer routine calls for service.

Relying on crime maps, sheriff's officials this year targeted Price Road, Cool Springs Road, Ledan Road, Harmony Church Road, Gillsville Highway and areas of Old Cornelia Highway.
Deputies set up road blocks and pulled over cars for window tint infractions, defective equipment, traffic violations and other causes. In many cases, they found people who were wanted by the law, officials said.

Sgt. Shane Presgraves said deputies are also on the lookout for electronics and other possible "gifts" in cars. "We've found some shoplifted property that way," he said.

Authorities also have seized four stolen cars and a quarter-pound of marijuana during the operation, Strickland said.

Officials say Operation Christmas Shield and other similar initiatives appear to have to have paid dividends. Since beginning the push in 2005, the sheriff's office has seen a 46 percent decrease in burglaries, from 827 in 2005 to 448 through November of this year.

Christmastime burglaries are "one of the things I think we've impacted," Strickland said. "With these high-visibility patrols, we've reduced the risk to the citizens."