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There are many sad truths in life, and one of them is that the coming holiday will not be a Happy Christmas for all.

In a land of plenty and a people rich with the privileges of liberty, the American yuletide will be tarnished again by crime this December. There are real Grinches, and they will steal Christmas from millions.

It's a national irony that amid the season in which we celebrate the joy of giving, the criminal takers in society ramp up their activities to match the retail frenzy.

Because most of us aren't criminals, it's hard to think the way they think. Burglars and thieves are continually on the lookout for targets, and most victims are guilty of doing exactly the opposite: not paying attention at all to potential red-flag warning signals.

Crimes of opportunity are often sparked by happenstance and circumstance, and that means the foil to becoming a statistic involves mixing a healthy dose of prudent caution in with your Christmas spirit.

Victimization, in many ways, is a numbers game. There are X amount of criminals out there, and they will commit Y number of crimes on average in the next couple of weeks leading up to Christmas.

Some criminals will burglarize empty houses, some will break into cars where bulging gift bags are visible. Porch pirates will plunder Amazon and eBay packages left on doorsteps. Purse snatchers and pickpockets will permeate shopping throngs.

Holiday safety tips abound, and most revolve around common sense. Lock your doors and cars. Notice your surroundings and appear purposeful. Shop in groups. Follow your instincts--most stores and shopping destinations are happy to have someone walk you to your car if you're feeling apprehensive.

As bad as material losses are if they occur, especially when they may have been destined to be gifts, they are still generally replaceable.

Physical violence by criminals causes damage of a different nature entirely. The good news is that truly random violent crimes are anomalies. Most assaults, rapes and murders involve people who know each other.

The bad news is that violence is also partly a numbers game. A certain number of people will experience suffering and injury and death by criminals this December. Who the victims are and who the perpetrators will be are impossible to individually predict, but by collectively heightening awareness and prevention that number can be reduced.

The FBI Uniform Crime Report analyzes six main crime categories, with the data going back decades. Arkansas is poorly reflected in the rate of crime comparisons with other states.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Arkansas ranks 33rd in population, which is both the lowest we've ever ranked and the most common ranking (32 times in the 57 years since 1960). We've never ranked higher than 30th.

But in contrast to that low-thirties position, our population outperforms other states in criminality. In 2016, we were a top-10 state for the rate of crime in four FBI categories: burglary, rape, aggravated assault and larceny-theft.

In the case of burglary, it's a state disgrace that we have been No. 1 or 2 in the nation for 11 of the last 13 reported years--including a deplorable five-year stretch at the top from 2009-2013.

Our dubious leadership in the rate of break-ins and thefts appears to be a situation of Arkansas simply not improving as much as other states, because our burglary rate is down significantly in the last five years.

The same is not true of some of the violence categories. In whole numbers, Arkansas has experienced back-to-back record years for aggravated assaults, and the rate hit a 23-year high in 2017.

Both the number of murder cases and the rate of homicide also reached levels not seen in 20 years.

Falling victim to any of the FBI's category crimes can cast a shadow on the merriment and brightness we hope for at Christmas.

But taking extra precautions for your holiday protection and safety is only part of what I hope will become a sharper focus across our state for the new year, which is the goal of making Arkansas safer again.

Reviewing the FBI data tables, a picture of unflattering change over time emerges for our small, natural state.

Overall in 2016, Arkansas ranked fifth and sixth in the violent and property crime index rates. But that's not our history and need not be our legacy. As recently as just a decade ago we were top 10 in neither; in 2002 we weren't even in the top 20.

Looking back at the 1970s and 1980s, we enjoyed very low property-crime rates. Until 1986, Arkansas never ranked higher than 40th in the overall index, and normally fell into the 44th or 45th spot.

Even in the violent index comparison, we never cracked the top 10 until 2009. The violence-packed 1990s, bad as they may have been here, were worse in other states.

Lower crime is partly achieved by higher preventive activities and prudent mindsets by all of us. As Christmas nears, structure your shopping and travel and entertaining around an astute, staying-safe mentality.

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Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

Editorial on 12/07/2018

Print Headline: Guarding against Grinches

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