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Shopper security.

Incident At Park Plaza Illustrates Why Some Shopping Malls In U.S. Spend $500,000 Annually On Security

How safe is the modern-day shopping mall?

That question is one that has been raised often in the weeks that have followed a frightening incident Sept. 26 at Little Rock's Park Plaza.

The events that occurred -- a heated dispute involving 40 youths inside the mall, followed by two shots reportedly fired outside the mall and eight eventual arrests -- have been well documented by the local media.

Some would say the incident has been blown out of proportion.

The fact that Park Plaza is located in an area of Little Rock not normally associated with such acts of violence has something to do with that.

Keith Foxe, a spokesman for the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers, hears of similar occurrences every day.

In fact, his trade organization is sponsoring a shopping center security conference next month in Chicago. Sessions will be devoted to such issues as gangs in the centers, dealing with crisis situations and the handling of youths in malls.

"I know a thousand mall managers that would trade places with Park Plaza any day," Foxe says.

He downplays the incident because arrests were made and the area around Park Plaza was secured virtually minutes after the shots reportedly were fired outside in the mall parking lot.

"The fact that they were apprehended in four or five minutes is a testament to the security at the mall," says Foxe.

He adds that he has heard tales of far more serious incidents at shopping centers around the country.

Gun play, fights and rowdy behavior are almost common in malls in Seattle, Los Angeles and Detroit, Foxe says. Much of it involves local gangs in battles for "turf."

"Centers have had to respond to the growing crime rate in society," he says.

As a result, 80 percent of the nation's large malls have full-time security personnel, according to an ICSC survey. Most malls have an average security staff of 15.

At least 68 percent of the malls use part-time security officers, 12 percent of which are off-duty police officers.

All of this adds up to about $500,000 spent annually on security by the average-sized regional shopping center.

Seeing To Security

Randy Powell is the general manager of Park Plaza who was thrust into the media spotlight by the Sept. 26 incident. He says what happened that Saturday night was little more than a confrontation that could have occurred just as easily at a local school yard.

That it happened at one of central Arkansas' more prominent shopping areas and that weapons were involved led to the notoriety, he says.

"The important thing is that it was immediately quelled and immediately handled," Powell says. "You can't prevent society from normal occurrences, no matter how security-conscious you are."

There have been no reoccurrences of violence since the incident, which Powell says is a tribute to the cooperation of the Little Rock Police Department.

Teams of officers regularly patrol the mall on weekends. They complement a security staff that has from four to more than 20 guards on duty at any given time.

Still, many would-be shoppers are wary of attending the mall after the headline-making incidents last month.

Have sales suffered?

Powell says no.

"|The merchants~ realize it's not a Park Plaza problem," he says. "They are seeing some changes in traffic patterns. There's more daytime shopping ... The vast majority of them are showing positive sales."

Part of the solution to avoiding similar incidents may be finding other outlets for youth activities. With this in mind, Park Plaza is developing a youth alternative program, centered on funnelling teens toward various organizations dedicated to helping young people.

Mall officials hope to start the program by the end of the year.

Groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, the United Way and Centers for Youth and Families have been contacted by the mall's staff about participating in the project.

"As a mall manager, mall security is a priority for me because I want my customers to have a safe and secure place to shop," says Tisha Anspach, manager of McCain Mall at North Little Rock.

The 854,284-SF McCain Mall is the state's largest.

She points out that 90 percent of the security problems her staff deals with are as simple as helping customers locked out of their cars or lost children looking for their parents.

The fact that McCain provides such a large sales-tax base is not lost on the city's administration, she adds.

A great deal of support comes from the North Little Rock Police Department and the office of North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays.

"Our relationship is definitely a team effort," Anspach says from her office, located in the heart of the shopping center. "We all work together on this."

Anspach reports no fluctuations in traffic at her mall since the Park Plaza incident. She says part of the reason no similar outbreaks have occurred at McCain may be the mall's aggressive attitude toward handling large groups of teens.

"They know the rules; we tell them when they walk in the door," Anspach says. "The guards approach them in a fair and reasonable manner ... But if this is a group that's been informed, they don't get a second chance. They're out the door."

Hiring more security guards is not always the answer. Having too many guards may give customers the impression a security problem exists.

Nevertheless, Anspach plans to expand her security force in weeks to come to allow for the expected 40 percent increase in sales due to holiday shopping.

Meanwhile, Anspach is busy these days preparing for her mall's grand reopening Nov. 20.

The event is being held to show off the renovations currently underway involving everything from new tile lining the entire mall to new banisters and handrails that provide a streamlined look to the center.

The celebration -- which will include a performance by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and an appearance by Miss Arkansas, Shannon Boy -- also will allow shoppers to witness the lavish Christmas decorations planned by Anspach and her staff.

About $100,000 is being spent on decorating the mall for the holidays.

Some of the changes that should be instantly recognizable to shoppers include new plants and benches, to be installed beginning Nov. 1, and new lighting.

The $3 million renovation package will include a paint job for the mall's exterior. Different colors will be sampled on sections of the walls before a decision is made on a final color.

The former Cinema I and Cinema II sign has been removed out front, replaced by a McCain Mall pylon sign more than 60-feet tall -- 20-feet taller than its predecessor.

"We're basically going to a brighter, cleaner appearance than we've ever had," Anspach says.

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the mall has added handicapped entrances and parking and plans to add automatic door openers for customers in wheelchairs.

Some of the new retailers moving into the store include: The Gap, scheduled to take the space now occupied by Emphasis; and Sawdust and Splinters, a crafts store offering items with a country motif.

Anna Harper, the owner of Harper's at Lakewood Village in North Little Rock, plans to open a Christmas theme outlet in McCain Mall by the second week of November.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Little Rock Park Plaza security
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 26, 1992
Words:1233
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