CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — ‘Tis the season for holiday cheer — and shopping. Local police are encouraging those who’ve already made their holiday gift purchases this season to be extra careful to ensure those presents end up under their own tree instead of a thief’s.

Crime rates are typically highest in the summertime, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, smaller-scale “crimes of opportunity” like car break-ins tend to happen more often in December.

These crimes aren’t always characterized by smashed widows or broken car doors. Craig Eckrich with the Chesterfield County Police Department said thieves often look for the easiest target.

“Most break-ins are actually to unlocked vehicles,” Eckrich said.

Individuals should try to park their cars in well-lit areas whenever possible, always lock the doors and take all belongings with them inside. Never leave valuable items in the car unattended — or at least hide them.

“People are shopping, leaving packages in their car, things of that nature, which makes them more attractive targets,” Eckrich said.

While the home can be a safe haven for many, it’s also where most car break-ins occur.

“People think they’re home, they’re safe,” Eckrich said. “They have that mindset of ‘this is my castle and everything’s okay here,’ so they neglect to lock their cars.”

These types of crimes can happen within a matter of minutes. Even if one doesn’t anticipate leaving the car for long, simply locking the door can be the difference between losing your items and keeping them. Police say thieves are likely to just walk away and select a new, easier target when they encounter a locked car door.

“They don’t have to break a window and make noise a lot of time,” Eckrich said.

Car break-ins and robberies don’t typically turn violent, but ignoring safety measures can put an individual at risk of escalated crimes, as well. A whopping 738 cars were stolen across the city of Richmond in 2021 — a 36% increase from the year prior. Officials say preventing these larger-scale crimes can start with small-scale actions like locking a door.

“The easiest thing to do is just lock your cars,” Eckrich said.

If you suspect someone may have illegally entered or broken into your car, you should contact your local police department’s non-emergency hotline. However, if you witness a robbery in action, call 911 and do not approach the thief.