'Tis the season for giving - and stealing - gifts.

'Tis the season for giving and stealing gifts.

Columbus police say Black Friday, the shopping day after Thanksgiving, not only marks the official start of the Christmas shopping season, it also means the beginning of holiday thefts from cars and front porches.

At the monthly police luncheon Nov. 18 at the German Village Meeting Haus, police officers said consumers tend to get careless with merchandise. They leave it in the front seats of their cars in full view or forget to lock their doors. Gifts sent through the mail are often left unattended outside people's homes.

Jerry Glick, who organizes the luncheon for the German Village Society, said thieves are waiting for shoppers to duck into store after store while leaving their recently purchased property in their vehicles.

"They can grab something very quickly before you know it," he said.

Glick reminded the audience that they can have gifts delivered to the Meeting Haus, 588 S. Third St., where the parcels will be held until they are retrieved.

Lt. Bob Meader said residents also may call the Columbus Division of Police and ask for "house check" forms, whereby police can periodically visit the residences of people who are away.

Keep outside lights turned on during evening hours and keep drapes closed, especially in rooms where Christmas trees and presents are located, officers advised.

Some suspicious people have been going door to door, pretending to offer a service to see if people are at home or to look inside to evaluate merchandise, officers said.

Audience members questioned whether they should take pictures of the would-be perpetrators.

"We don't want you to be too confrontational," Meader said.

While photos were not summarily discouraged, residents are encouraged to gather as much evidence as they can, noting the height, weight, description of clothing and age of visitors who have questionable motives.

Meader told the crowd that police have a relatively new unit at their disposal the Community Response Team, a group of officers who can be redeployed to problem areas.

In other news from the meeting, several thefts of air-conditioning units have been reported from homes and businesses, Glick said. Meader said that is not unusual this time of year.

"This is a popular time because people won't notice it until April or May," he said.

Meader said the thieves are recycling the metal from the units.