In mall shooting's wake, security concerns arise Law experts, owners rethinking ways to make shopping meccas safer

August 12, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

DEPTFORD, N.J. -- The conditions at the Deptford Mall that set the stage for tragedy one week ago exist at malls everywhere.

The deaths of three people and wounding of another during a holdup was a wake-up call, experts say. And right now, they say, there's little to prevent it from happening again.

Highly visible armored cars practically announce their cargo when making deliveries. A uniformed guard -- usually alone -- carries bags of money into a bank branch or department store. And crowds of bystanders walk nearby, in the path of the cash.

Add to that conditions cited by law-enforcement experts and social scientists: A growing population of young men with few prospects and a willingness to act recklessly, and an abundance of weapons capable of spewing dozens of bullets in a split second.

Even as public officials called last week for the separation of armored-car deliveries from the public, those who are responsible for mall security across the region were scurrying to re-examine their carefully crafted plans -- "anything" to deter robberies and protect the public.

Review of procedures

In Cherry Hill, N.J., a town whose mall was one of the nation's first, the local police force said it was planning to consult with Deptford officials to learn from them what went wrong. Meanwhile, Cherry Hill Mall management immediately began reviewing its security procedures, said manager David Altman.

In Voorhees, N.J., police sent a bicycle patrol officer around to merchants in the Echelon Mall to learn when armored-car visits are scheduled so that patrol cars can be nearby.

At the Rouse Co., the Columbia-based regional mall owner, there were meetings and discussions about the Deptford Mall. "I can assure you every retailer, large or small, in America is probably rethinking how they move money about," said Rouse spokeswoman Kathy Lickteig.

But as if in a chorus, police and mall managers, security firms and armored-car owners came back to one theme:

Malls, those antiseptic, climate-controlled merchandising meccas that may have lured you from Main Street and lulled you with a sense of cocoonlike security, are no more or less attractive to gun-toting hoodlums than any other place you may go.

'Certain false comforts'

"A mall is really no different than any other public place," said Daniel A. Antolini, owner of Executive Cash Services Inc., an armored-car firm with clients at the Deptford Mall. "There are certain false comforts that one might feel being in a mall because of the family-oriented atmosphere. However, security risks on our part are no different whether we are in a mall or an outside location."

"It's our belief that the security of the malls we are in [is] extremely adequate," said Joseph Fabrizio, senior vice president at Boscov's. "I don't think there are any more opportunities for people to be armed in a mall than any place else."

"Malls spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in security," said Ronald Rabena, senior vice president of SpectaGuard Inc., which handles security for the King of Prussia mall near Philadelphia. "As a whole, our clients are very, very concerned with tenant safety, with shopper safety."

In some cases, mall owners or managers hire firms like SpectaGuard for protection.

Others, like the Rouse Co., have their own security department, staffed by employees.

"A security plan is created for each property," said Rouse's Lickteig. "We have an ongoing relationship with the police in that jurisdiction, making sure the police department knows our plan so that they can react quickly if they need to."

At the Deptford Mall, operated by the Rubin Organization of Philadelphia, a company security force is augmented by off-duty Deptford police officers. The mall also has a police substation where township officers are permanently assigned to patrol.

The Deptford Mall's system was unable to prevent two or more robbers Aug. 5 from entering the mall, drawing semiautomatic pistols and starting a gunbattle with Rudolph Matlack, 21, a Brooks Armored Car Service Inc. guard who was carrying bags of cash out of a Midlantic Bank branch just inside a mall entrance.

One of the robbers, Vincent Reid, 28, was killed by bullets from Matlack's .40-caliber pistol, police said. Nicholas Morris, 17, who was coming through the glass doors of the mall entrance, was killed by rounds from Reid's gun. Matlack was hospitalized with gunshot wounds to the chin and abdomen.

Police have not yet determined whose bullet struck Maureen Lavin, 14, in the forehead. Lavin died Wednesday.

Bottom line concerns

Malls often limit their spending on security in favor of an improved bottom line, said Edward J. Michaels, general manager of Bond Security Services, which provides mall and shopping center security in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

"They have to begin thinking of security as an investment instead of an expenditure," said Michaels. A little imagination might not hurt, he added.

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