Shoppers are keen to see overt displays of security in malls following several incidents of gun violence in public areas, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The level of security that puts customers at ease has risen recently, security experts told the Journal, after a gunman killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub in June and a sharpshooter last week killed five police officers in Dallas.
With several exits and many people carrying large packages, safety measures at shopping malls can be a challenge, the Journal reports.
Even in its current state of decline, the American shopping mall is a public square, where people gather to socialize, eat and shop. As with any public space, feeling safe is paramount, or the area will become bereft.
That’s leading shoppers and landlords alike to seek out assurances that malls are safe areas in an era where gun violence can erupt, and when bystanders can be felled in random acts. But it’s a delicate compromise because some displays of beefed up security can be alarming enough to shoo people away.
Providing security at malls requires a balance of discreet and more outward measures, as heavily armed guards or metal detectors themselves can be alarming to shoppers and could keep them away, experts say. While cameras and unarmed security officers are commonplace in many malls, the Journal reports that the swanky Grove mall in Los Angeles has set up a small police kiosk that helps officers respond quickly to emergencies.
“There is a general feeling among myself and my peers that customers want to see more security now,” Brenda Heck, head of security at a Los Angeles-based retail real-estate developer, told the Wall Street Journal. “Five to 10 years ago, you wouldn’t necessarily see that. I think their mind-sets have been changed by the increased level of incidents.”
Some malls are adding these safety concerns to a long list of plagues, which include decreased foot traffic and sagging department store anchors. In May, retail analyst Jan Kniffen said that the U.S. has far too many enclosed malls, saying the number needs to be around 700 compared to the 1,100 malls currently in the U.S.
“The top 250’ll do fine, and the rest of them are going to struggle,” he noted.
To keep on attracting customers that are already reluctant to spend, a feeling of safety is paramount. Retired Air Force colonel and counterterrorism expert Jennifer Hesterman, who now works with U.S. mall owners, told the Wall Street Journal that safety policies should expand to perimeter areas like parking lots and restaurants, which should be alert for any suspicious behavior.