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Curtailing cruising: a case study.

OVER THE PAST SEVERAL DECADES, A uniquely American phenomenon has evolved. Shopping malls have become the community focal point of social activity for teenagers and young adults alike. While this activity may be desirable for some local merchants, it can present a serious threat to security and public safety if carried to extremes.

In the case we will examine here, the phenomenon had reached an extreme and had become a significant threat not only to public safety but also to business profits. The shopping mall is located in southern New England and lies in an area surrounded principally by small- to medium-sized suburban towns. The facility is a 1950s-style strip mall surrounded by parking areas and sidewalks; there are no common-use interior spaces or atriums.

From late spring to early fall, the mall parking lot had become a regional spot for cruising on Friday and Saturday evenings. Between approximately 8:30 pm and 1:00 am on those evenings, an average of 150 vehicles and 500 youths from all over the state and from adjacent states converged on the shopping mall.

Carloads of kids in muscle cars, pickup trucks, motorcycles, and jeeps slowly and endlessly cruised the route. They roared their engines, turned up their sound systems to maximum volume, and shouted to kids in other vehicles and to those clustered along the sidewalk. Other groups gathered around vehicles parked haphazardly in the lot and engaged in similar activities. For the most part, the teenagers were merely engaged in a version of the adolescent mating ritual, and their activities, although irritating to some, were basically harmless. But as the situation became worse, these conditions posed a major threat to security and safety. First, there was the potential for vehicle accidents. When drivers were trying to show off and not paying attention to driving, the chances of their getting in an accident increased dramatically. Second, consumption of alcohol, mainly beer, was widespread. It was not uncommon to see pickup trucks with a party going full swing in the back. Finally, there was a wide spectrum of illegal activities including fighting, prostitution, and the sale and use of drugs. The most immediate effect of the situation was its impact on retail sales for merchants. Most stores remained open until 10:00 pm and had previously enjoyed profitable sales at night. Although the teenage activities had occurred for years, the situation appeared to worsen in 1988 and 1989. Merchants complained that customers were being driven away.

In an attempt to solve the problem, mall management hired a security company and off-duty city police officers. The security company achieved some success by having officers get to know influential regulars on the weekend cruise circuit and by politely and professionally insisting that the teenagers adhere to a few commonsense rules of public behavior. The police officers concentrated on traffic control and on making a limited number of apprehensions and arrests for the most flagrant illegal acts.

Yet, despite the best efforts of both groups, the situation gradually worsened. Efforts were hampered because the mall was private property with public access. The laws dealing with regular private property had very limited applicability there.

As complaints from mall merchants and the public increased, the security company met with the mall manager to discuss ways to solve the problem. After extensive analysis, the two groups decided that the only effective measure would be to close as much of the parking lot as possible at 10:00 pm. The only store that was open after 10:00 pm was the supermarket. To implement this solution the following actions were undertaken:

* Permission was obtained from the mall's management company to implement the plan. Initially, the management company was reluctant to follow what it saw as an extreme course of action. It changed its opinion, however, after watching a one-hour videotape of weekend evening activities at the shopping mall.

* The legality of the solution was confirmed by an attorney, who gave advice on dealing with possible problems.

* The cooperation of the police was gained. Following a series of meetings with police officials, a detailed plan of action was agreed on. At 10:00 pm, security officers would put up and staff barricades at points 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the accompanying map. Drivers and pedestrians in the closed area would be asked to leave, and no one would be allowed in. Two police officers in a cruiser would be at the mall and in constant communication with the security supervisor. The mall manager, in a letter to the police, authorized the security company to make complaints on the mall's behalf concerning trespassers in closed portions of the mall. A complaint form was prepared, and the police agreed to respond to it.

* Store managers were notified of the plan before it was implemented.

* Security officers received special training to prepare them to implement the plan. They were given refresher courses in public relations, legal aspects of security work, enforcement techniques, and management of aggressive behavior. Special requirements and procedures were also covered in detail.

As the time to implement the plan approached, the plan was made public. The local press wrote several articles. They were generally fair and accurate as well as sympathetic to the teenagers. Employees of the security company were instructed to refer all press inquiries to the management company. Happily, the security company received no publicity throughout the operation.

However, petitions to leave the entire parking lot open were circulated and garnered hundreds of signatures. Rumors and vague threats of violent reactions abounded.

When the time came to implement the plan, tensions were high and everyone was prepared for the worst. The police were at the mall and in contact with the security site supervisor. The security company staff, including managers, were also there to deal with various contingencies.

At exactly 10:00 pm, the barriers at points I through 4 were put up. Barriers 1, 3, and 4 were staffed by security officers who allowed only egress from the closed area. Other officers moved through the area, requesting that drivers and pedestrians leave by the nearest exit. Despite all apprehensions, the closed area was vacated without incident and die new procedure was quickly accepted.

On subsequent evenings, the security force was gradually reduced until two officers were sufficient to close the area. The shopping mall lost its focus as a cruising and gathering place because the 10:00 pm closing kept the momentum of each evening's activities from building.

The operation was an unqualified success. The following factors contributed to the success:

* thorough analysis of the situation coupled with comprehensive problem-solving techniques

* managerial and decision-maker involvement at all stages

* constant consideration of legal aspects of both the problem and its possible solutions

* thorough training and supervision of security officers reinforced by organizational controls and selfdiscipline

* considerable effort toward maintaining good press relations

What then, you may ask, did the youths do when the security situation forced them out of their long-recognized weekend night playground? They moved to another location, but that's another story and probably better grist for sociologists than security managers. About the Author . Richard S. Kent is manager of the Hartford branch of Security Services of Connecticut Inc. the security firm hired by the mall. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:shopping mall parking lot security
Author:Kent, Richard S.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Aug 1, 1990
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