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Police urge Sonoma County shoppers, merchants to stay safe

  • Santa Rosa Police Department volunteer ambassadors, Dave Lichtenstern, left and David Cooper, share laughs with Ralph Morgenbesser of Ralph's Courthouse Classics at Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, Thursday Dec. 12, 2013. The ambassadors act as liaison between police, merchants and the public during the holiday season in the downtown area. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

As the Christmas shopping season lights up, police throughout Sonoma County are reminding merchants and consumers to stay alert for thieves, scams and overall personal safety during these hectic weeks.

In Petaluma, downtown merchants share photos of known scammers, people who have used fake or stolen credit cards before.

Santa Rosa police and a team of volunteers keep a lookout for lost or confused shoppers downtown, or those who leave packages in view in their cars in mall parking garages.

Santa Rosa Police Ambassadors

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"Thefts and shoplifting are more common this time of year," said Petaluma Lt. Tim Lyons. "We see a rise in property crimes in general during the holiday, with people leaving Christmas gifts in their cars or forgetting to take things in at night."

Volunteer police "ambassadors" walk Santa Rosa downtown streets, welcoming visitors, giving directions or assisting shoppers, said Sgt. Andy Romero.

The teams of two, including David Cooper and Dave Lichtenstern,greet residents and visitors, acting as liaisons between merchants and downtown users.

"We want people to feel safe and welcome," Romero said. "They may help people with directions or hours or help point out where things are. They're kind of a walking concierge."

But they also serve as another set of eyes and ears for anything suspicions or nefarious happening downtown as shoppers hustle from one store to another, sometimes allowing their vigilance to drift away like yesterday's tinsel.

"If they see something odd, they would call dispatch," Romero said. "They may pop into a merchant's and someone may say, 'By the way, we had this bad check passed.'"

In Petaluma, communication with downtown merchants led to the arrest of Jennifer Weissenberger, 40, of Petaluma, who is suspected of at least six theftss since Nov. 24, according to police records. Police and merchants say she used fraudulent credit cards and lies to obtain services and goods from several stores.


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