Are Shopping Malls Safe?
If I were to ask you to visualize an area of high crime, what would you mentally picture? Many of you might envision a dark alley, a deserted parking lot, or some other type of shadowy venue. In reality, one of the most popular crime destinations is brightly lit, crowded, and inviting to criminals and law abiders alike (albeit for different reasons): the shopping mall.
Why are criminals drawn to shopping malls? In a word: opportunity. As most people understand through logic and personal experience (hopefully more the former than the latter), malls provide target rich settings for criminal gain. I have prosecuted a diverse spectrum of crimes that took place at the mall ranging from battery to burglary, from drug sales to human trafficking, and everything in between. Research corroborates this data.
Shopping Mall Criminal Statistics
Researchers have examined what types of crime are prevalent at shopping malls, as well as how and when they occur. Vania Ceccato et al. (2018) studied crime in a Scandinavian shopping center, resulting in findings that arguably reflect spatial, retail, and building layout patterns that can be applied to shopping malls around the world.
In terms of crime statistics, they found that 68% of recorded incidents involved vandalism and public disturbance, 16% involved property crimes, and 16% involved violence. Regarding peak hours for crime commission, they found the most vulnerable window of time was between 6:00pm and 8:00 pm.
Comparing weekdays to weekends, Ceccato et al. found that public disorder actions were usually higher on weekends than weekdays, as compared with property crimes such as shoplifting and burglary. And in terms of seasonal crime patterns, they found that Spring (especially the month of April) and autumn (November) revealed both a high number of crimes committed as well as the crime rate. What about the summer? They found that July had slightly more violence, along with the autumn months of October and November.
Obviously malls in different areas might generate different statistics. But one arguably consistent theme relevant to geography, is where within the mall crime occurs.
Public Space and Public Safety
Most shopping malls do not have metal detectors (yet), and all are welcome. Ceccato et al. discussed the challenges posed by the fact that a shopping mall is privately owned, yet open to the public. They note that unfortunately, this means that patrons are able to freely and legally enter the mall, even though some end up misusing internal public spaces such as stairs and toilets.
They also recognize that some individuals or groups frighten mall patrons merely by being visible at a mall entrance, illustrating the tension between the right to visit the mall and the right to feel safe while shopping.
Inside the mall, when it comes to geography and crime, apparently, location matters. In the mall they studied, Ceccato et al. found that 64% of crime occurred within 10% of “micro-places,” particularly the food court, followed by two fast food establishments, then two entrances, followed closely by two of the main corridors.
What about the area surrounding the mall? Other research has explored this issue.
There Goes the Neighborhood?
Are Shopping Malls Really Crime Attractors?
Vijay K. Mago et al. (from 2014) researched how crimes occur at and around “crime attractors” such as shopping malls. They began by noting the obvious: crime attractors are attractive to criminals because there are plenty of potential victims. In addition, according to crime pattern analysis, crimes are also committed in the vicinity of crime attractors.
Mago et al. (ibid.) found, however, that criminals do not necessarily commit crimes within the immediate vicinity of crime attractors, but rather, commit crimes on the way as they travel toward crime attractors.
They note that prior research has established that offenders seek to limit the distance between their home and the location where they travel to commit a crime.
They recognize other factors that might determine where offenders offend include where they work, go to school, or frequent for recreation, as well as the general accessibility of the crime attractor and its array of business and entertainment options.
Protect Your Wallet as Well as Yourself: Mall Safety
Mall patrons care about both shopping and security; so focus on both. Take advantage of door buster deals while avoiding distractions — such as texting while walking. Keep your belongings close, your eyes and ears open (no sunglasses or ear buds), and your radar up. Not only will you enhance your perception, your aura of alertness also makes you an undesirable target.
Mall safety is not about paranoia, but preparedness. Proactive perception allows you to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your wallet, as you enjoy both sales and safety.
This article was first published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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