Towson Town Center unveils new safety measures less than a year after a murder on its grounds

Security makes its presence felt with mall improvements

October 14, 2005|By NICK SHIELDS | NICK SHIELDS,SUN REPORTER

Bright lights bounce off the freshly painted white walls inside the parking garage. Security cameras hover above the parked cars, and perch in stairwells.

Inside the mall, in a glassed-in room across from Tiny Town U.S.A., two security officers keep watch on a bank of more than a dozen video monitors. If need be, they can use a joystick to zoom in for a closer look at any trouble.

Nearly eight months after a private school educator was fatally shot on the fifth level of one of its parking garages, Towson Town Center has revamped its security operation. The mall's general manager says more than $1 million has been spent to protect shoppers and storekeepers such as James Coyle.

"Before, I didn't want my wife to shop here at night," said Coyle, a manager at Brookstone, a shop in the mall. "With the new lighting they have in the parking garage, it's like daylight. It's amazing."

The Feb. 18 slaying of William A. Bassett raised questions about security at Towson Town Center, and it prompted a Baltimore County councilman to sponsor a bill requiring large shopping centers to install security cameras.

Towson Town Center, which is owned by General Growth Properties, had no such cameras when Bassett was killed. Before the council passed its bill, the company announced that it would install surveillance cameras at the mall.

Charles Crerand, general manager of Towson Town Center, said the mall conducted consumer research to determine what additional changes should be made.

Today, for the mall's weekly "Family Fun Day," the theme is safety. After the event - which is to include fingerprinting for children and a visit from McGruff the Crime Dog - mall officials will show members of the media the beefed-up security features.

Over the past several months, the mall has added a security office, visible to the public. In it, security officers can be seen monitoring 16 video screens with live images of garages, parking lots and the interior of the mall. The screens are staffed by two officers during mall hours and are attended by at least one officer 24 hours a day, mall officials said.

Garage walls have been painted white to reflect newly installed, brighter lighting. More than 200 cameras have been placed throughout the mall and garage, Crerand said.

Mall officials said patrols by car in the garage and on foot throughout the mall have been increased, and additional off-duty Baltimore County police officers will patrol the mall during key hours and times, such as the holiday season.

Donna Fouts, a regular at Towson Town Center, said she's seen the brighter lights in the mall garage, and she said she is not concerned about her safety because she makes it a point to park on the first level. But she's concerned about shoppers who park higher in the garage, adding, "As you go up the different levels, that's when it gets dangerous."

Two teenagers were charged with first-degree murder in Bassett's death. The getaway driver was acquitted on the murder charge last month but was found guilty of attempted armed robbery. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the alleged gunman, who is scheduled to go to trial in December.

The death of Bassett, a 58-year-old educator at St. Paul's School, led the Baltimore County Council to pass legislation requiring that surveillance cameras be installed at the county's larger shopping centers. Last month, a committee set up to study the legislation recommended that it also apply to big-box retailers, but provide exemptions for centers with uniformed security officers whose sole job is to monitor parking lots.

Jean McGloin, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, was told yesterday about the security enhancements at Towson Town Center. She said the changes had a "good chance" to be effective, but pointed out that such measures sometimes just displace crime to other areas.

Crerand said mall officials have received a positive response to the security changes from many shoppers and tenants. He described the changes as "a way to give our customers and tenants a greater degree of comfort" and feelings of "safety in the garages and the mall."

nicholas.shields@baltsun.com

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