Neighbors launched a petition drive calling for tighter security at Westview Mall yesterday, but shop owners and employees said they consider it a safe place despite the killing of a 49-year-old woman in a parking lot Thursday night.
Most viewed the shooting death of Jane F. Tyson of the 6500 block of Redgate Circle, Westview Park, by two men who stole her purse as a random act of violence that could have happened anywhere.
But many neighbors say they believe the mall should respond by tightening security at Westview, where Baltimore County police say there have been 20 robberies since the first of the year, including seven armed holdups in the parking lot.
"This was the last straw. It was right in our back yards. What's going to happen if a stray bullet comes in?" asked Mary Spicer of the 900 block of Southridge Road, who started the petition drive.
Ms. Spicer said she launched the drive because people who commit crimes at the mall often use an alley that runs between the parking lot at neighboring homes as an escape route. She wants the mall to fence in the parking lot.
Shopkeepers and employees said they do not believe beefing up security can prevent the kind of crime that happened Thursday night.
"I just think it's one of those isolated incidents. I don't think security could control those types of crimes," said Jackie Acree, owner of the Merle Norman cosmetics store.
"I really have never felt unsafe in this mall," added April Nettles, who works at Shaw's Jewelers and is vice president of the mall's merchants association.
In the wake of the shooting, management tried yesterday to make other workers as confident as Ms. Nettles. Alan Fink, the mall's general manager, walked around talking with store owners and employees about the incident. Counselors will be available for the next few days for any mall worker who wants to talk about the incident, he said.
The mall has had a new security force since it was purchased about 18 months ago by Balcor Development Co. of Chicago and began undergoing a renovation, said Mark Seaman, the marketing director.
The mall hired O.D.P. Security Services, a firm that uses only off-duty or retired police officers. The Wackenhut Corp., the old firm, did not employ off-duty officers, and the new management wanted people with better training.
Off-duty officers from Baltimore County are permitted to make arrests while serving as security officers, Mr. Seaman noted.
There are four security officers on duty at all times, with three walking around inside the mall and one driving outside in a car with an "Off Duty Police" sign on the side, said Mr. Fink.
Residents who live near the mall acknowledged that parking lot lighting has improved as a result of the renovation, but they would still like to see more cars patrolling the lots.
"One car can only be in so many places," said Doris Ackerman of the 1000 block of Craftswood Road.
"They should put one on each side of the mall," said Andrea Lanahan, also of the 1000 block of Craftswood Road.
Royce James, who works at General Nutrition Center, agreed that there needs to be more security outside the mall and said he would like to see better lighting on the parking lot behind the mall.
Charles Kirk, director of security, said another car may be added, but he doubts that would prevent crimes such as the killing of Mrs. Tyson.
"You could put 30 cars out there in the parking lot, and you could never prevent what happened Thursday night," said Mr. Kirk, who retired from the Baltimore police force after 27 years.