HOLLYWOOD, FLA. (WSVN) - Police are taking extra steps to help keep shoppers safe at a time in the holiday season when, they say, criminals go to crowded malls looking to turn the holiday cheer into a holiday scare.

7News cameras captured last-minute shoppers pushing their carts outside of the Target location at 3251 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, Thursday night.

Tobi Shapazian and her daughter Josephine said they always try to do their best to always check their surroundings any time of year.

“You kind of have to these days, especially down here,” said Tobi.

“We’re usually in and out of stores. She always makes sure to put all of her bags in the trunk, so nobody sees [them],” said Josephine.

As a way to combat thefts, Hollywood Police are doing their annual initiative, known as “Operation Reindeer,” where officers are sent out across busy shopping centers in the area to deter thieves.

“If something seems off, it probably is, and if not, well then, we’re here to check it out,” said Hollywood Police spokesperson Deanna Bettineschi.

The operation starts weeks before the holidays and continues after them.

Police said thieves know last-minute shoppers can be easy targets, which is why they launched this program in an effort to keep the community safe.

“It is a time where we want to remind people, you know, there are certain things they can do to protect themselves during this time of year,” said Bettineschi.

Police have already made one successful arrest. Investigators said 21-year-old Rishon Louis was seen walking around the parking lot of the Target in Hollywood, back on Nov. 25.

Police said two of their community service officers spotted Louis and thought something was off.

“They noticed someone who’s acting a little suspicious. Something was a little off,” said Bettineschi. “[Louis] had a ski mask on, and [he] was watching a woman who was coming out of the store, fumbling with her purse.”

Body camera video captured the moment Louis was placed in handcuffs.

“They ended up finding that he was a convicted felon who had a firearm on him,” said Bettineschi.

Police said this is the perfect example of why they step up patrols this time of year.

To be safe this holiday season, police advise shoppers to keep their guard up as they buy gifts. They want shoppers to avoid leaving bags inside their car as they enter another store.

“If they’re going to a few stores, don’t just drop off your bags in your car and then walk back in,” said Bettineschi, “because the thieves are looking for those people who are just leaving the bags in the car and going back into the stores.”

In Louis’ case, his charges only focus on accusations that include loitering and lying to police, as well as a charge for carrying a gun as a convicted felon.

Louis is behind bars and is being held without bond.

Police also advise shoppers to drive to the parking area of their next store, even if it’s in the same parking lot, as a way to trick the thieves.

“Always look, be extra cautious, because you may think, ‘Heym this will never happen to me,’ but it’s that time when you do let your guard down that something like that will happen,” said Bettineschi.

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