GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Police are asking the public to stay vigilant after a recent streak of purse thefts in parking lots across the Kent County area.

Two people, a 19-year-old and 17-year-old, were arrested and charged after investigators linked them to multiple thefts in Grand Rapids, Grandville and within the Kent County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction.

Philomen Tumusifu, 19, is charged with larceny and two counts of financial transaction device – stealing without consent.

The 17-year-old, who hasn’t been identified, was also charged in the act.

“The thing that I really want to point out about this is making sure that our community is alert when they are in a parking lot. Watch your surroundings and make sure you know who might be approaching you,” Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said.

According to KCSO, deputies were sent to the Meijer store on Plainfield Avenue NE on Tuesday after a 68-year-old Plainfield Township resident had her purse stolen while she was loading groceries into her car. 

“We really want you to be cautious during that particular act because your back is turned, you’re not paying attention and your valuables aren’t watched at that point,” LaJoye-Young said.

Three suspects wearing blue surgical masks sped away in a dark-colored sedan.  The victim’s credit cards along with car keys were inside the purse as well. 

While deputies were on scene investigating they were contacted by the Grand Rapids Police Department stating they had the three suspects in custody. 

GRPD said they were investigating their own stolen purse complaint that occurred at a store on East Beltline five days earlier just before 1 p.m.

During the search, one of the suspects had the Plainfield victim’s credit card in their possession, linking the suspects to the Grand Rapids purse theft and the theft at the store on Plainfield Avenue which was being investigated by KCSO.

The suspects are also believed to be involved in two other purse thefts that happened in Grandville.

The first crime occurred on Aug. 10 just before 2 p.m. when a woman’s purse was stolen in the parking lot at the Meijer on Century Center Street SW near Ivanrest Avenue SW.

The other incident happed on August 18 at the same store around 11 a.m.

LaJoye-Young added that larger retail stores tend to be where thieves scope out their victims and it usually happens during busy shopping periods.

“They have more things in their cart and they’re more than likely to leave their belongings in their cart unattended while they are distracted. Somebody becomes particularly vulnerable during those times,” she said. “They profile someone to be a target because one there is someone that can easily be taken and two there’s some appearance that they won’t fight back. Sometimes, we see a mom with kids be the target because they’re not going to leave their kids.”

The sheriff’s office is thankful that a watchful bystander who witnessed the incident on Plainfield stayed with the victim afterward and spoke with police in providing a description.

“Police can’t keep communities safe. Communities keep communities safe. Look out for one another. It might not be you that is being victimized right now but you would want somebody to help if it were you,” LaJoye-Young said.

“Make sure you’ve dealt with your purse before you start to unload your cart,” she said. “If it’s possible then don’t bring a large purse to the store, maybe perhaps keep your wallet or belongings in your pocket.”

LaJoye Young added that the public should alert store security if you notice someone in a parking lot that looks suspicious and doing everything but looking for a parking spot.

Also, if you do see a person’s personal belongings unattended, bring their attention to it.

According to the sheriff’s office, Tumusifu has been arraigned in 61st District for his involvement with GRPD’s thefts. He is currently out on bond. Other agencies have submitted their reports to the prosecutor’s office for review.

There is also another 19-year-old that was identified as a suspect but hasn’t been charged. Grandville PD says additional charges will be issued for the three teens as the investigation continues.