EC Downtown director cautions vigilance after purses snatched


By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The director of Elizabeth City’s Main Street program is warning the public to be more vigilant and to take extra safety precautions in the wake of three recent store larcenies, including two purse-snatchings in the city’s downtown.

Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. Director Deborah Malenfant said in an email on Friday that in both purse-snatchings, the thief entered a downtown business, grabbed a woman’s purse and fled.

In one incident, the thief engaged the business owner in a conversation before snatching a customer’s purse, Malenfant said. In the second incident, the thief waited for a woman to set down her purse before grabbing it and running off, she said.

Malenfant said the suspect in both purse-snatchings has been described as a young black male, “soft-spoken” and approximately 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall.

Malenfant said the third recent theft was reported at the Shoppes on McArthur and involved an older white female who took merchandise.

Malenfant noted the Elizabeth City Police Department’s community policing arm is increasing its visibility in the downtown and encouraging citizens to be more aware of their surroundings. She also noted a Community Watch informational meeting will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at Knobbs Creek Recreation Center, adding that forming a community watch group downtown “might be a great idea.”

Asked about her advisory on Saturday, Malenfant said in an email that she was referring to information she saw in the police department’s e-business email to businesses as well as postings on Facebook.

In the e-business email, city police mention two larcenies of purses in the downtown, noting the “purses were left unsecure while employees and patrons were inside of local businesses.”

The police email goes on to warn its readers to “keep purses and other valuables locked up or kept close” to protect against theft, but includes no details about the larcenies. An attempt to obtain more information from police about the larcenies on Saturday was unsuccessful.

A police incident report suggests one of the purse-snatchings may have occurred on South McMorrine Street. The report states a purse was stolen from a woman at a “retail establishment” in the 100 block of South McMorrine on March 9. The thief made off with $250 in stolen items, according to the report.

Malenfant said Saturday she would defer to police officials about what specifics should be released about the recent thefts. At the same time, she said she believes “communicating the two larcenies and encouraging people to be safe and offering tips brings the matter to everyone’s attention.”

“We should always be situationally aware of our surroundings and keep an eye out for suspicious individuals or behaviors and report them to the police department immediately,” Malenfant said.

In her email on Friday, Malenfant also offered a number of safety tips for downtown store owners and managers, including:

* That they should walk in pairs or groups, keeping all personal valuables hidden or tucked away and holding them tight to their bodies.

* That they, if they have to be in their businesses at night, keep their doors locked and only unlock them for customers or people they know.

* That they, before locking up and walking to their vehicles after dark, call the police and ask for an escort.

* That they make sure their entry lights and security cameras are functioning.

* That they keep their vehicles locked when parked and to store valuables in the trunk or out of direct view.