Attention, Shoppers: Mall Crime

November 26, 1993

Officials say the perception of shopping mall crime outweighs the reality. But they're taking no chances. They realize successful malls are important not just for their economic contributions but for their role as the new town square. Thus, the efforts to beef up security, as typified by Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden's recent announcement of increased police patrols at local malls and shopping centers this holiday season.

The perception of crime in the malls may indeed be exaggerated. One indication of just how safe most citizens consider the local mall is the fact that, in the past few years, many families have begun taking their children treat-or-treating there rather than on neighborhood streets.

Yet the reality of crime in the malls should not be taken lightly. If this is where the people are flocking, it stands to reason that the criminals would follow them. Baltimore County malls report noteworthy numbers of certain crimes, particularly shoplifting and vehicle theft. Recall last summer, when Acura Legends were leaving Towson Town Center faster than Barney dolls.

Recently the International Council of Shopping Centers surveyed its 25,000 members worldwide and learned that they consider open parking lots and enclosed parking garages the most dangerous places in shopping centers, with restrooms second.

That's why the hot trend these days among malls with open lots is the security watch tower from which a guard can monitor suspicious comings and goings. (Mondawmin in northwest Baltimore is the first in the vicinity to employ a tower.) And it's why Baltimore County police will put more patrol cars in mall and shopping center parking areas the rest of this year.

County malls also will benefit from a recent policy reversal allowing local police to wear their uniforms and carry handguns and radios while they moonlight as security guards.

This changed policy may or may not be responsible, but county police statistics show crime has declined over the past year at most area malls. The alarming exception is Towson Town Center, where the numbers of shoplifting incidents and vehicle thefts are markedly higher than a year ago.

The moral for shoppers is to exercise as much caution when shopping as they would in most other public places. And the message for county and mall officials: Thanks for the added security.

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