Commerce, not crime, keeps Arundel Mills busy

2,500 calls to police, firefighters in 1 year

November 23, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Arundel Mills developers predicted their 1.3 million-square-foot mega-mall would become the state's biggest tourist attraction when it opened a year ago in time for the Thanksgiving shopping rush.

Anne Arundel County public safety officials predicted that the entertainment-shopping complex in Hanover would generate as many emergency calls as an entire town.

A year later, it looks as if they were right.

County police and firefighters were dispatched to Arundel Mills more than 2,500 times in the past year, as 14 million people flocked to the state's newest and largest shopping mall.

"We knew there were going to be some issues with disorderly conduct and some shoplifting," said police Capt. Athena M. Baker. "But when you look at the size of it and the number of businesses there, it's pretty normal."

Officers checked 784 burglary alarms, investigated 558 thefts and responded to 238 car accidents, reports show. Firefighters and paramedics handled 281 calls - most of them medical emergencies, according to 911 records. Other calls included reports of credit card fraud or suspicious people in parking areas.

"Malls really can be like small cities," said Anne Arundel County Fire Division Chief John M. Scholz. "There can easily be 40,000 to 50,000 people inside at one time. They're going to need service."

From a public safety perspective, one key statistic was the number of major crimes at Arundel Mills in its first year. Police investigated two rapes, five burglaries, six robberies, 13 assaults and 21 car thefts on mall property - less than 2 percent of the total calls.

"It's not an unsafe place to shop," Baker said. "It's much more likely that the businesses will be victims than shoppers will be."

Police say it's important to note that not all reported crimes were substantiated. A teen-ager who said he was stabbed at Arundel Mills later told detectives he said the incident occurred at the mall because that was the only place his parents allowed him to go by himself. And officials say quite a few cars reported stolen ended up lost in the vast parking area.

Credit card fraud, shoplifting and other theft from stores were far more common than purse-snatchings and robberies, according to police records. And, police said, most assaults were reported at night as people left bars, restaurants and movies - not while the mall was open.

But one woman in Laurel, who reported being robbed at gunpoint on a recent Saturday in the mall parking lot, said security was lacking. She said a security guard didn't notice her when she tried to flag him down and didn't seem to make any attempt to find the man she says attacked her.

Arundel Mills General Manager Gene Condon said he's received no complaints from customers about safety and noted that in the Laurel woman's case, county police were on the scene within two minutes.

"Our security team is top-notch," said Condon. "We truly believe safety is tantamount to our success."

County police, who have at least one officer on patrol at Arundel Mills most of the day and night, say the mall's security force and surveillance system work well most of the time. "It's rare that there's a case where a suspect isn't caught on video," said county police Detective Stephen Brown.

Arundel Mills' surveillance system - which includes alarms and more than 80 cameras in the mall and in parking areas - also has helped officers and firefighters pinpoint the location of emergencies.

"It's not like an alarm that goes off in a house," Scholz said. "At Arundel Mills, you know exactly where the problem is. It's very sophisticated."

Considering the mall's size, Scholz said, the nearly 300 calls weren't out of line compared with other malls. In the past year, the Fire Department responded to 135 calls at Marley Station Mall in nearby Glen Burnie.

Police projections of 2,500 service calls were right on target, Baker said.

Last year on Black Friday, dozens of police and firefighters were stationed at Arundel Mills, fearing traffic jams would delay their response to emergencies.

But this year, officials said they aren't as concerned.

"Of course it's going to be crowded this year," Scholz said. "But now we know what we're dealing with."

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