As holiday shoppers get ready to hit the stores this week, the police department is preparing to keep those people safe with Operation Safe Shopper.

The program, which begins Black Friday and continues through Christmas, helps deter crime in major shopping areas like Market Heights and Walmart. “Our primary concern is to prevent crime against the shoppers themselves,” Chief Mike Gentry said. “We don’t want theft in parking lots.”

A mobile command post will set up in a surveillance van in the shopping centers, and uniformed and plain-clothes officers will be stationed inside and outside the stores.

“We have our communications people in the command van, ATVs in the parking lots, (officers) on bicycle and on foot,” Gentry said.

Hannia Arroyo, senior team leader at Target in Market Heights, said the police presence makes their customers and employees feel much safer during the holidays.

“We’ve seen them come out late at night to walk our support people to their cars during the late hours we have at the holidays,” she said. “And we see them patrolling on bikes and sometimes we see officers inside the store, too. We, as team members, do feel safer.”

The department has conducted Operation Safe Shopper since Market Heights opened in 2008. Lt. Loretta Fox said just about every member of the police force participates in the program every year.