On Mall Safety, Seller Beware

April 13, 1994

Westview Mall in western Baltimore County has had a bad couple of weeks. In late March, the mall's management company filed for bankruptcy. Then eight days ago, a Baltimore County jury awarded $2.75 million to the family of a woman murdered on the mall's parking lot in June 1991.

Are the two events connected? To an extent, yes. Jane Tyson's killing obviously scared business away from Westview. Yet it's likewise apparent that the mall itself did not inspire secure feelings among prospective customers. Indeed, a homicide occurred at suburban Owings Mills Mall in 1992, but that aberration has not deterred the usual crowds.

Westview experienced much more than aberrant crime before Mrs. Tyson's death -- 27 violent offenses in the mall or on its parking lots in the 17 months prior to the murder. These statistics apparently persuaded the jury that the mall's owners failed to take appropriate crime-fighting measures.

An attorney for Westview's management made the argument that it is "a false notion that crime can be prevented." To the contrary, this notion itself is not only false but also suicidal when espoused by a business. Any company, particularly a large one in an area familiar with crime, risks failure if it does not provide enough protection to make customers feel safe.

More malls are realizing the importance of good security (Westview now among them). At the Mall in Columbia, for example, the Rouse Co.'s long-standing formal security plan for the facility was bolstered a year ago by the addition of a bicycle patrol in parking areas. Also, pending the outcome of their current contract negotiations, Howard County police could begin moonlighting at the malls in their uniforms this July, as Baltimore County officers are doing in their jurisdiction. Mall officials say they would welcome and take advantage of such an offer.

Today's mall is more than a collection of shops and eateries. It is the new town square, and a safe haven to many citizens, as evidenced by the growing number of families who bring their children trick-or-treating at the local mall rather than on their own neighborhood streets.

Mall owners can't afford to take this confidence lightly, for the sake of their own survival as well as for their customers' safety. To paraphrase a slogan well known among mall visitors, seller beware.

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