On mall safety, seller beware

April 13, 1994

Westview Mall in western Baltimore County has had a bad couple of weeks. Last last month, 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.

Are the two events connected? To an extent, yes.

The killing of Jane Tyson, committed in front of her two grandchildren in June 1991, 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 several miles to the northwest at suburban Owings Mills Mall in 1992, but that aberration on the mall's crime blotter has not kept the usual crowds from flocking there.

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, that notion 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 an encounter with the Chapter 11 filing process if it does not provide enough protection to make customers feel safe. Westview's problems attest to that.

More malls are realizing the importance of good security (Westview now among them). Mondawmin Mall in northwest Baltimore, for example, installed a watch tower on its parking lot last year. In another recent action aimed at mall crime, Baltimore County began allowing its police to wear their uniforms and carry their handguns while moonlighting as security guards. It's no coincidence that after malls beef up their security, they tend to experience noticeable drops in crime.

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 go 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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