With the busy holiday season upon us, Grand Rapids Police have a warning to residents about increases in thefts during the busy bar season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They say in the last ten months, they have had at least two dozen thefts of purses, phones and other items in the downtown area.
One couple, had a particularly strange experience when the person who stole a purse and phone started texting with them about returning the items for money.
"I think they`ve practiced, and they`ve gotten good at what they do, says Melissa Hansen.
Melissa and Joshua Hansen went to the Ritz Koney Bar and Grill with about 20 other friends Friday night. Melissa thought she was being careful.
"I set my purse down on a bar stool near our group underneath a pile of coats, says Melissa. "I went to check on it, and it was gone."
Melissa's friend who placed a purse on a shelf behind the bar was also a victim. "Her purse turned up in the women`s bathroom at Ritz," says Melissa. "They had dumped everything out and thrown it in the garbage can."
The thieves stealing their cash and phones, Grand Rapids Police Captain Jeff Hertel says some thieves troll the bars and restaurants for crimes of opportunity, sometimes even grabbing a bear to blend in. "I definitely think they were watching," says Melissa.
Joshua sent a text message to Melissa's missing phone right away, asking for her purse back, seeing if someone would respond and they did. "It was definitely stressful," says Melissa.
"They didn`t spell particularly well," says Josh.
The thief texted back, "I don`t have no purse I fond (found) this..."
Then, the person attempted to bargain for more than $200.00 for the phone.
"They messaged back, saying I can deliver at division and Franklin," says Joshua. "Late at night, it`s not really a safe place to be."
The thief then texting, "I send your phone if bull *** no dill meet at Burger King or I sell to some one else."
The meeting at Burger King never happened, "They seemed really interested in obtaining the money I was talking about but not particularly interested in delivering the items that I wanted," says Joshua.
Someone found Melissa's emptied purse nearby at Tavern on the Square."The manager said it was just left on a table in the middle of the bar so they apparently sorted through everything, decided what they wanted and just walked out, having left it there.," says Melissa. The manager tracked her down through Facebook and returned her purse to her.
Those who work in the downtown area say from experience, thefts like this increase during the holiday season. The Hansen's have some advice."I would definitely recommend minimizing,"' says Melissa.
"Just keep your valuables on your person, if you don`t want to hold onto them, maybe lock them in your car or leave them at home. It`s just really easy for them to take something," says Melissa.
The Hansen's called police immediately after the theft happened and filed a report. They also canceled all of their credit cards and changed their locks.
Police advise that if you are heading to a bar or restaurant, you place your money and ID in your pocket rather than carrying a purse or wallet. They say if you do have to carry a purse, do not leave it unattended.
Authorities say many thefts occur when people ask their friends to help watch items that they sit on the table. When they go to the bar or the bathroom, the phone or purse is gone when they return. Officers say you should take the items with you and not rely on others to keep an eye on things.
Police also say you should lock your wallet or purse in your trunk. They say you should not place it under a coat on a seat because thieves know there is probably a purse underneath a coat and will make an attempt to steal it. If it's in the car trunk, they say it's out of sight and out of mind, keeping your items safe.