Crime at Balto. County's 10 malls declines

Rise in some categories, recent robbery in Towson raise shoppers' concerns

January 11, 2000|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

While some county residents might have been shaken by a recent attempted robbery at Towson Town Center in which one suspect was shot, Baltimore County police say the overall crime picture at the county's 10 malls is reassuring.

"Malls are one of the safest places in the county," said Bill Toohey, a police spokesman. Given "the enclosed space, criminals don't like to go there because it's hard to get" away, he said.

While burglaries, arsons, car thefts and assaults have increased at county malls, crime overall at the centers declined during the first six months of last year.

FOR THE RECORD - In an article Tuesday about crime at Baltimore County's malls, The Sun incorrectly reported that the second-largest increase in incidents during the first half of last year occurred at White Marsh Mall. It was Owings Mills Mall instead, with an increase of 32 incidents. The Sun regrets the error.

The incident Jan. 4 at Towson Town Center -- in which one suspect was shot and two escaped after trying to rob a jewelry store -- was the first of its kind at the mall, officials say.

Still, the incident left some shoppers worried.

"It makes me feel like there is no place safe," said Donna Pfieffer, 47, shopping at the mall. "I don't come here alone."

Officials said they have tried to curtail crime by adding police substations at malls, including Towson Town and Eastpoint, and allowing off-duty officers to wear uniforms while moonlighting as security guards.

Police said they also have built strong ties with business leaders by meeting monthly to discuss ways to curb crime.

"They need to be kept aware of what's happening because the mall is part of the community," said Capt. John Spiroff, chairman of the Baltimore County Police and Private Security Association, a group of 80 people who meet to discuss crime.

While those initiatives have helped reduce shoplifting and nearly every type of property crime, mall officials said they must work to reduce assaults, which rose from 104 to 116 during the first half of 1999.

The safety of a shopping center "is going to be a huge issue when you decide where to shop or whether to lease there," said Steve Crumrine, director of security for the Rouse Co., which owns Owings Mills mall, White Marsh Mall and Towson Town Center. "Our responsibility is the common areas. Essentially, tenants are responsible for [security] inside their store."

Officials at Eastpoint believe that 95 percent of assaults are committed by acquaintances.

Malls sometimes are seen as neutral spots where separated parents can exchange their children, said John McCormick, director of security at Eastpoint. That can lead to confrontations.

"Mommy doesn't show up or Daddy doesn't show up for two hours after they are supposed to pick their kids up, and then the fight starts," McCormick said. "We deal with it the best we can and try to make sure they don't hurt anyone else."

Despite the increase in assaults, Eastpoint had the sharpest decrease in crime of all the county's malls, from 322 incidents in 1998 to 211 last year.

McCormick said he believes that is a result of adding police officers and assigning areas to each officer. The assignments have led to officers talking more with tenants and getting a better understanding of their concerns, he said.

The biggest crime increase occurred at Hunt Valley Mall, with 98 incidents during the first half of last year, compared with 51 during the same period the year before. Officials pointed to growth of the mall, which nearly doubled in size.

The second-largest increase occurred at White Marsh Mall, where 31 more incidents were reported in the first half of 1999 than the year before, bringing the total to 251. Crumrine said the numbers might be a result of more businesses reporting shoplifting.

Crime at County's 10 Shopping Malls

...................................................................Jan to ..................Jan to

...................................................................June 98................June 99

Homicides............................... .........................0.............................0

Rape.................................... ............................0.............................1

Commercial robbery................................. .......11............................9

Street robbery................................. ................13............................9

Assault................................. ..........................104..........................116

Burglary................................ ...........................28...........................47

Shoplifting............................. .....................1,326......................1,114

Theft from auto.................................... ........112..........................106

Car Theft................................... ......................51...........................66

Arson................................... .............................1.............................3

Total................................... ........................1,646.......................1,472

SOURCE: Baltimore County Police Department

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