Holiday shoppers urged to be wary Anti-crime campaign set for retail centers

November 15, 1997|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Warning that shoppers tend to drop their guard in the holiday frenzy, Maryland retailers and police yesterday launched a joint crime prevention campaign to boost safety at shopping centers and malls during the busy Christmas season.

The Maryland Retailers Association plans to work with retailers and law enforcement officials to keep shoppers and stores from becoming easy prey, by offering consumer safety tips and adding more lighting, patrols and uniformed officers to retail centers.

Incidents of crime, such as shoplifting, purse snatchings and auto break-ins and thefts, increase after Thanksgiving along with the traffic that retailers count on for a quarter or more of their

annual sales, said Tom Saquella, president of the retailers group. Police estimate that incidents rise by about 5 percent to 10 percent during that time of year.

"The malls have become where society gets together, and some of society's problems are going to be there," said Saquella, during a news conference at the association's headquarters in Annapolis, where he was flanked by retail representatives as well as police from Baltimore, Annapolis and several counties. "This time of year, the incidents do increase because there are more people out."

This year, "You're going to see a great presence" of police and security officers, Saquella said. "We cannot sell merchandise, stay in business and employ people if shoppers are reluctant to visit retail centers."

In Anne Arundel County, police plan holiday patrols, in which officers will cruise retail centers with lights flashing, said Capt. Emerson C. Davis. Last year, the strategy helped reduce shoplifting at one mall by half, he said.

In Annapolis, foot patrols will increase, especially near shops on Main Street and in West Annapolis, said Capt. Zora Lykken.

The Howard County Police Department plans to station decoy police cars at shopping centers and encourage off-duty officers to park marked cruisers in prominent spots when they shop, said Police Chief James Robey.

"Crime doesn't discriminate," said Deidre Moore, vice president and general manager of Security Square Mall, which has increased parking lot lighting, installed a closed-circuit TV system and built a security station in the mall for mall officers and police. "The criminal looks for opportunities and will strike where there are opportunities," Moore said. "Our job is to reduce the opportunities."

The retail association urged shoppers to take common-sense precautions. A shopper should note the store entrance closest to his car, park in a well-lighted area, never leave packages on the seat, lock the car and shop with another person. Additionally, a shopper returning to a parking lot should look under his car and in the back seat and carry only a few packages, the group recommends.

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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