By Maggie Lee

Sandy Springs shoppers can expect to be approached by police and volunteers this holiday season who are saturating the city with a message: Don’t leave valuables in your car, and do lock the doors behind you.

They’ve got a bunch of other advice they hope will help prevent crime – and stress.

From a small, almost cozy office packed with career mementos and a few warm lamps, Office Larry Jacobs works in the city’s Crime Prevention Unit. Jacobs says that as a crime prevention officer, he’s allowed some time to take a break from the minute-by-minute pace of urgent work, such as responding to calls, in order to use some of the crime prevention techniques he learned in the classroom.

His flagship program this time of year is called “Lock, take, hide.”

In crowded retail parking lots, explains Jacobs, a potential thief generally just walks down the line of cars quickly trying each door handle. So, locking the car door is the first step in safeguarding a GPS, a bag of Christmas presents, an MP3 player, a gun, or anything of value in the car.

Take the keys, even just to run in somewhere for a minute, Jacobs said. He’s seen plenty of car thieves take advantage of a key left in the ignition.

And if you must leave anything in the car, he said, hide it — preferably locked in the trunk.

“If thieves see something they like,” he said, “a car alarm doesn’t matter.”

Thieves break the window glass, which doesn’t necessarily trigger the alarm or leave a place to pick up fingerprints.

It’s those visible items or unlocked cars that make up a substantial preventable chunk of police work and make for angry citizens. So that’s why Jacobs and a team of volunteers have already scheduled six days of canvassing parking lots to distribute 5,000 information cards telling people to “lock, take, hide.”

As for the house, a big attraction for a potential house-breaker is an unkempt place: overgrown trees and bushes, newspapers piled in the driveway.

“If a bush is tall enough, you can hide in that all day and work on a window,” Jacobs said.

Keep shrubs trimmed below the window and remove tree limbs that are less than about 6 feet from the ground, he says.

And stay in touch with the neighbors. People have to look out for each other.

“You don’t have to sit on your front porch, but you can drive down the cul-de-sac on the way home from work, look around, talk to neighbors you trust,” he said.

And never hesitate to call 911 if there’s something suspicious.