SANTEE, Calif. - East County shoppers were comforted by a presence of San Diego County sheriff's deputies on Wednesday while they did their holiday shopping.
Deputies participated in the San Diego County Sheriff Department's Holiday Watch program, which is in its seventh year. The program took place in Santee and had been planned for months.
On Wednesday, it was easy to see them as deputies were perched high above the Santee Trolley Square in the department's mobile watch tower.
Deputy Jeremy Sheppard was on watch looking for potentially dangerous people.
"Just watching who's coming in and who's going out," Sheppard told 10News.
He and other deputies at the shopping center are also looking to prevent tragedies like the one that occurred Tuesday at a shopping mall near Portland, Oregon.
"What did happen in Oregon is tragic," said Sheppard. "And it's unfortunate. I think it even reinforces our presence here and our reasons to be here."
He told 10News that all deputies are trained to handle incidents like that shooting. In fact, the latest active shooter training took place just months ago on the Palomar College campus.
Shoppers like Debbie Hinkey appreciate the extra attention.
"When I came in the parking lot, I was just like … I think I took a deep breath," she told 10News.
On the ground, a few deputies were on mountain bikes. Elsewhere, reservists went car-to-car looking for valuables left out on seats.
Their goal is crime prevention during the holiday season so shoppers can avoid being a victim of crime.
According to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, in the year 2010, there were 786 arrests countywide for holiday-related crimes.
In 2011, there were 850 arrests countywide in the same time period, which is an 8 percent increase. These arrests include robberies, car burglaries and vehicle thefts.
"It's a crime of opportunity," said Sheppard. "They'll break the window and grab your stuff and leave in mere seconds."
This year's Holiday Watch program will be in place until after the New Year.