Following a spate of local carjackings last year, Tysons Corner Center, a sprawling shopping mall in Fairfax County, Va., convened one of its regular customer focus groups. The shoppers' expressions of fear that crime was spilling into their suburb prompted management to embark on a unique program.
Tysons now distributes a “Safety Awareness” brochure -- updated four times a year among the mall's 15 million annual customers. It gives safety tips and reports statistics about crime on the premises. During the first quarter of 1993, 19 cars were stolen in the mall area, and 11 fights broke out.# There were no murders or rapes, though one rape was reported the previous year. The brochure notes that the robbery rate for Tysons during 1992 was lower than for surrounding Fairfax, Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
The brochure is “partly a marketing tool and partly a way to warn customers,” says Tysons' General Manager Rob Snowden. “More and more malls are taking crime and safety very seriously because if crime scares away customers, the malls won't be in business.”
Like most of the shopping malls that sprung up in the 1960s and '70s, Tysons was not designed with security as a top priority. Current efforts to upgrade security have required changes in design and construction. According to Snowden, more than three-fourths of the 10,300 parking spaces at Tysons are now on four and five-story decks, designed so that plenty of natural light shines between the decks during the day. The decks are also painted white to minimize shadows and reflect as much light as possible at night.
The mall's stairwells, including those in the parking decks, are open or covered by clear glass, so that users don't feel trapped. Security guards in jeeps patrol the parking areas regularly. Call boxes have been installed on all parking levels, and telephone handsets connected to a security dispatcher are available at all shopping mall directories. A network of closed-circuit television cameras has been installed in the shopping areas, parking lots and nearby roads, and the system is monitored round the clock.
Other shopping malls across the country also have stepped up security in recent years. Newman Properties, which operates five shopping centers in Southern California and surrounding states, keeps jeeps cruising in its parking lots at all times. Other malls employ mounted police, patrol trucks and valet parking.##
In Los Angeles, ultra-secure malls in both the suburbs and inner city have been designed by Alexander Haagen Development Co. They have received a lot of attention among urban planners for their infrared motion detectors in fences, closed-circuit TV with central command post and corporate security forces. In a full year at one of Haagen's centers in the Watts area of downtown Los Angeles, there was only one reported burglary, three thefts of or from autos, and one attempted robbery. According to Richard Titus of the National Institute of Justice, “A shopping center of similar size in an affluent Los Angeles suburb would be hit by about eight burglaries [a year], 70 thefts of or from autos and four robberies of persons or businesses.”*
“Malls are generally thought of as safe -- and generally they are,” says Tysons' Snowden, “so people tend to let down their guard when they come. You should never take personal safety for granted.”
# The data were analyzed by University of Maryland criminologist Lawrence Sherman.
## See Alan Farnham, “U.S. Suburbs Are Under Siege,” Fortune, Dec. 28, 1992, p. 44.
Richard M. Titus, “Security Works: Shopping Enclaves Bring Hope, Investment to Blighted Inner-City Neighborhoods,” Urban Land, January 1990, p. 2.