Mall security officers fired-replaced by city police www.privateofficer.com
COLERAIN TWP OH July 17 2012 — Police are patrolling a new beat in town: Northgate Mall.
In an arrangement that could be the first of its kind in Ohio – and a twist on a national trend – on-duty Colerain Police officers replaced mall security guards who had no firepower and no arrest powers.
“This is like an old-time walking beat – but with a roof,” said Police Chief Dan Meloy.
Colerain police added the beat recently after the shopping center’s new owner agreed to contract for police protection. The new owner, Zeshan Tabani, says his goal is to shift perceptions – and to re-attract customers and tenants to the struggling mall.
The Dallas-based Tabani Group bought the 916,000-square-foot regional mall for $21.5 million in March; In 2005, a previous owner, Feldman Mall Properties, had paid $110 million.
“There’s a reason the $100-million mall became a $20-million mall: Perceptions,” Meloy said.
Asked whether crime statistics became an impetus for police to assume mall security duties, Meloy replied, “It wasn’t based on crime statistics.” In 2011, police were called to the mall about twice a week, statistics show. But Meloy said, “fear of crime has more impact than actual numbers of crimes.”
A lifelong Colerain resident, Meloy kept hearing that people felt unsafe at Northgate. He thinks that’s a big reason the mall isn’t as busy as it once was. “If your friends and your neighbors are afraid, and if your mom tells you not to go somewhere because she thinks it’s not safe, you’re not going to go,” Meloy said.
Although some other shopping centers also are home to police substations, Meloy said he thinks Northgate could be the only mall in Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky where local police have a 24-7 presence and have replaced security guards.
Ken Hinkle, president of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, said he was unaware of any public-private partnerships quite like the one Colerain has established.
“It really sounds like a very neat concept…you may be onto something very cutting-edge there,” said Hinkle, who is police chief in Obetz, near Columbus. “That’s very innovative thinking when you have a police chief who ‘thinks outside the box.’”
Across the nation, growing numbers of police agencies have been establishing partnerships with malls and other shopping centers for many years, said Joseph LaRocca, spokesman for the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C. But typically, police augment existing security guards rather than replace them, he said.
The vast majority of shoppers are law-abiding, LaRocca said. But some people turn to crime if an opportunity presents itself while others simply are career criminals, he said. Both those types of potential criminals “maybe think twice about doing something wrong,” if they see police in a mall, LaRocca said.
The Colerain arrangement was first discussed about a year ago, when Tabani was just considering buying the mall. While researching the market potential, he also heard safety concerns from shoppers. “They were saying they’d see large groups of people and they felt it was intimidating,” Tabani said.
So Tabani approached Meloy and proposed stationing police at Northgate. With a visible presence from police – as opposed to security guards – he’s convinced people will feel more secure.
“When customers come back, sales go up,” he said. Then, with resolve in his tone, Tabani declared: “We are going to turn the tide here.”
Meloy said he and Tabani “met in the middle of what I think was a good idea.”
Meloy said he’s always looking for new approaches to public safety, which he knows goes hand-in-hand with strengthening a community. “When people feel better about the community, things begin to happen for the better,” he said. “The mall is part of our community; it’s like a community within itself.”
‘You don’t see as much riffraff’
Renee Bell, property manager, said people who work in the mall “were all a little skeptical at first” about bringing police into the mall. But now some of the biggest naysayers are supporters. Shopkeepers have learned better tactics for dealing with shoplifters and also have been advised about ways to better crime-proof their stores.
A shopper, Jeff Herzog, said he has noticed, “You don’t see as much riffraff hanging around,” since police began manning the mall. “Not to bad-mouth the security they used to have, but these guys mean business.”
Colerain officers are assigned to mall patrol on a rotating basis; shopkeepers have been provided a special direct-dial phone number to reach the assigned officer, “so they don’t even have to call dispatch, they just call me,” or whomever’s on duty, said Officer Chris Phillips.
Phillips was on duty one day when a crime occurred that almost certainly would have remained unsolved if not for the new mall beat, pointed out Lt. Angela Meyer.
Before the mall opened, employees of one mall store spotted a pair of men trying to open the gate to a neighboring store while holding a large bag. Phillips found the men, based on the employees’ descriptions, and kept an eye on them from a distance. Phillips said that when the men spotted him, “they just took off.” They got into a getaway vehicle and sped away.
Phillips headed for his cruiser. Officers ended up arresting two suspects after a chase. They recovered $10,000 worth of jewelry they say was stolen from a mall store.
If security guards had been on site, they would have been unable to chase the suspect – and the elapsed time would have allowed the suspects to get away, police said.
“This is just something a little different – and it works,” Meloy said. “It’s also just the right thing to do.”