BY LISA ROSSI
Would you go to your local shopping mall by yourself late at night?
At least some police officials in Maryland warn against it, amid reports of violence in an around shopping centers in Maryland.
The issue of mall safety has been in the spotlight internationally as well,following the massacre at Kenya’s Westgate Mall.
Reports of shoppers being jumped, punched and shot at malls in Maryland have police warning shoppers to avoid shopping alone and at night.
In some cases, shoppers are heeding their advice.
“We only go before 3 o clock,” wrote Marie Smith on the Perry Hall Patch Facebook Page.
Police across the state are also routinely using security footage from mall security cameras in efforts to track down criminal suspects.
Also, in Baltimore County, it's a county requirement for shopping centers to install security cameras, a law that went in effect after a 2005 shooting at Towson Town Center of St. Paul's teacher and administrator William Bassett.
In the past three years, violent incidents at malls across the state have made headlines. Those include:
- In December 2011, a 19-year-old was found shot to death at 6:20 p.m. on a Tuesday evening outside a Nordstrom Department store at the Towson Town Center. Later, officials said they learned the shooting was part of an effort of a man to become part of the Black Guerrilla Family gang in North Baltimore.
- A brazen mid-day robbery at the Mall in Columbia made headlines in March of 2011. In that case, police said three men displayed a gun at a jewelry store on a Wednesday afternoon and got away with “hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry.”
- Arundel Mills has also been the site of reports of violence. In August of 2013, police said a 15-year-old boy was assaulted by three other teens, one of whom took the boy's shopping bags, while the victim walked at the mall one night at 9:25 p.m.
In another incident, mall security cameras caught images of a man who exposed himself during the afternoon on Jan. 13, 2013, behind a group of girls in the Mall in Columbia (He was later caught and arrested, with the help of the mall security camera coverage, according to police.)
Shoppers are also asking for more security at malls.
“There is essentially no security and no worthwhile video surveillance of the property or parking lots to act as a deterrent,” wrote Kim Bates on the Columbia Patch Facebook Page. “Criminals come from all over the region to rob defenseless HoCo [Howard County] residents. The mall needs to invest in adequate security to ensure the safety of shoppers.”
Officials with Weinberg Harris & Associates, a marketing firm that represents shopping centers in Columbia, Towson and Perry Hall, said they do not specifically disclose security measures, because they said doing so would compromise their efforts.
Kate Bowers, a spokesperson at Weinberg, said via email: “The safety and well-being of our shoppers are always our top priorities. We have a customized public safety program that entails different measures for various scenarios. Some of the measures are visible to our shoppers, like our trained security team and relationships with local law enforcement; others measures are not as visible.”
Also, in Howard County, police said they have sent extra police officers to the Mall in Columbia during the summer and holidays.
Police officials also praised the mall for using security cameras, which have helped police catch suspects.
To protect themselves, shoppers should schedule shopping trips during the day and shop in groups or pairs if possible, according to Howard County police spokeswoman Mary Phelan.
Phelan also advises shoppers against carrying too many packages at one time. She also said shoppers should beware of strangers approaching them unsolicited.
“If you feel uncomfortable, walk in another direction,” Phelan said. “If possible, walk back toward the store or toward another person.”
In September, Patch reported that the face of security could change at America’s malls, especially if there was a terrorist threat.
After 9/11, Malachy Kavanagh, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, says that malls looked at introducing airport-style security at malls. Americans weren’t interested “unless there was an immediate threat.”
Currently, there are no alerts from Homeland Security, but Kavanagh says the Department has probably already reached out to the heads of corporate security for all American malls.
If threats do arise, it’s conceivable that malls could adopt a policy like the NFL’s new NLF stadium policy, which only allows fans to carry clear bags inside.
- With additional reporting from Tim Lemke, Andrew Metcalf, Laura Thornton, Jenni Pompi, Tyler Waldman an Adam Bednar.