Leigh Adams of Scottsdale patrolled Monday at Scottsdale Fashion Square.
Despite the heightened security threat level that began a day earlier, Adams was on the lookout for bargains, not bombs.
“I hadn’t even thought about it,” Adams said of terrorism concerns as she left the mall. “If you worry about it, you’ll drive yourself crazy.”
Monday, shoppers packed the popular shopping center and others around the East Valley as the number of shopping days before Christmas dwindled. The crowds seemed unmindful of the terrorism threat. But not so, shopping center security forces were vigilant.
“We are taking additional precautions, but I can’t go into detail,” said Thomas Randall, spokesman for security at Westcor malls, which include Scottsdale Fashion Square, Chandler Fashion Center and Mesa’s Superstition Springs Center.
Fiesta Mall in Mesa also stepped-up security Sunday after U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced that the likelihood of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil has increased, said Sheila Hunter, mall general manager.
“We have a policy in place to help us maintain security levels at different threat levels,” she said.
East Valley store and mall managers would not divulge specifics about their procedures either before or after the threat level increase because that would compromise security, they said. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. shopping centers have beefed up security, adding manpower, enhancing equipment from cameras to computers, redoing policies and procedures, and developing emergency response plans, said Tom Walton, vice president of Allied Security, the largest privately owned contract security services firm in the United States. Allied has more than 2,000 commercial accounts, many of them shopping centers, in 250 cities.
When the country developed color-coded threat levels, many of the malls developed specific measures that would be implemented for each color threat, Walton said. Some of the typical visible safeguards include removing pay lockers, erecting concrete barriers at curbs, and towing unauthorized vehicles in service lanes, Walton said.
A threat level increase might lead to more manpower, more restrictions for access to areas such as service hallways and loading dock areas and heightened attentiveness to suspicious behavior and suspicious packages, he said.
People are probably safer just because of increased awareness among security forces and consumers, Walton said, but a determined terrorist is unlikely to be deterred. “There are no guarantees at all for any place in America,” he said. “Our focus is so much on terrorism, but no one can guarantee safety or prevention of a terrorist attack.” Despite terrorism worries, the biggest concern for shopping center security forces during the holiday season and throughout the year is property theft, Walton said.
That’s more of a concern to some shoppers too.
“Terrorism doesn’t scare me — not here,” said Glenna Bingham of Scottsdale. “If I were in New York I might think about it.”
She’s more concerned about her car getting dinged by a careless motorist. Jane Schlosberg of Scottsdale said she’s more worried about thieves or vandals than terrorists .
“I’m always careful walking to my car, and I don’t shop at night,” Schlosberg said.
Between Thanksgiving and Dec. 16, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Posse patrolling Valley shopping malls arrested 40 adults and 11 juveniles, issued 113 traffic citations, recovered eight stolen vehicles and $2,000 in stolen property.
“It’s just like the last 11 years,” said Sgt. John Bailey, who organizes the all-volunteer force that helps shoppers feel secure as they wander into dark parking lots with their holiday purchases. “Some years are busier than others, but we don’t really see a rise (in holiday season crime) this year.”
Kierland Commons, the upscale open-air shopping center on the northeast Phoenix-Scottsdale border, has increased its security forces this year, said Buzz Gosnell, vice president of Woodbine Southwest Corp., which developed, owns and and manages Kierland Commons.
“It’s not because we are worried,” Gosnell said. “Every holiday season we add more guards in uniform. People can easily identify security guards, and it makes them more aware. That’s our philosophy.” Walton said even before Sept. 11 there had been a shift to more visible security forces— uniformed instead of plain-clothes guards and marked police cars patrolling parking lots, for example. He said the trend is about six years old.
“We started to like seeing a security presence,” Walton said. “We became more crime conscious. Most people today want to see a visible source of security.”
Other East Valley mall managers also said they automatically boost manpower during the holiday season.
“We staff according to the traffic in the mall,” Randall said.
That includes working with such law enforcement agencies as local police departments and the sheriff’s posse.
Local Target stores have even teamed up with police to get bait cars in their parking lots, said Ellie Bernards, manager of the far north Scottsdale Target. Those are cars aimed at attracting and nabbing car thieves.
Car theft is a big mall crime, Bailey said. And the thieves often target a particular shopping center during the holiday season. Last year it was a big problem at Chandler Fashion Center, he said. Two years ago, car thieves seemed to prey on Arizona Mills mall in Tempe, he said.