Washington mall shooting raises security concerns

Area retailers operating under a heightened sense of alert


In an economic slowdown like this one, retailers don't need another reason for shoppers to stay home. But they got one Saturday, when a shooter opened fire at the area's largest indoor mall, killing one teenager and wounding another.

The shooting at Westfield Southcenter in Tukwila, which may have been gang related, has led to a heightened sense of alert at other malls in the region.

Retail tenants at Pacific Place received a security update from management on Monday, reminding them about the downtown Seattle mall's emergency plans in case of a threat.

"Thanks to the eyes and ears of all of you, we'll work together to provide a safe environment for everyone," the memo said.

The crime at Southcenter could have happened anywhere, Pacific Place general manager Lynn Beck said.

"It's an unfortunate reminder that we all need to do certain things to be prepared," she said.

Despite the most recent mall shooting and others in recent years, retailers are hesitant to install metal detectors - which would threaten to turn a carefree shopping mall into something resembling an airport.

"People come here to shop, they come here for entertainment," Beck said. "Does every business need metal detectors? It becomes a difficult question. You want to keep the environment welcoming, friendly."

Westfield Southcenter has stepped up its security, but the shooting does not necessarily mean that other malls will add security measures beyond being more aware and alert.

Security is heightened during the holiday shopping period anyway in correlation with extra foot traffic, said Jennifer Leavitt, vice president of marketing at Kemper Development Co., which owns the Bellevue Square mall.

"We take it very seriously and we're always concerned about our customer safety," Leavitt said. "We're a city within a city, and we work really closely with the Bellevue Police Department."

Security officers at Bellevue Square are purposely visible, she said, and available for addressing skirmishes or directing shoppers to a particular store.

To augment its security staff in busy periods, Kemper Development hires police officers through Puget Sound Executive Services, which helps place Bellevue police officers and Washington State Patrol officers.

Northgate Mall contracts with Los Angeles-based Andrews International for security. Andrews' officers patrol by vehicle outside and on foot and on scooters inside. They provide security escorts and monitor surveillance systems.

The mall's "tenant awareness" program trains businesses on how to watch for suspicious activity and report it to security, said Sarah Bonds, area marketing director for Simon Property Group, which owns the Northgate and Tacoma malls.

Mall representatives were hesitant to share additional specific security plans and techniques for fear of aiding potential troublemakers.

But Doug Reynolds, director of security for the Mall of America in Minnesota, provided some insight into how security works at the nation's largest retail and entertainment complex.

To keep 42 million shoppers per year safe, security officers use closed-circuit TV surveillance, radios, pepper spray and collapsible batons. A few months ago, Mall of America security officers began training in the defensive martial arts techniques of Krav Maga.

Mall security's biggest job is to be present and on patrol, Reynolds said. Officers approach gang members and talk to them.

"We train our people on gang awareness, how to recognize them, who you're dealing with, those type of things. ... Too often, people ignore them, and they run the place," Reynolds said. "If they're gang signing, then they're kicked off of the property. Anything intimidating, then they're kicked out."

Security officers memorize faces and issue trespass notices. If someone comes onto the property who isn't allowed, he or she is written up and kicked out, which could lead to a stronger criminal sentence later.

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