Lake Norman & Mooresville

Holidays are time to stay alert in mall parking lots

The Christmas holiday shopping season is always one of the busiest times of the year, drawing thousands of shoppers every day to the Lake Norman area’s two major malls.

The increased traffic also creates a target-rich environment for those who do their own kind of shopping – criminals, taking what others have bought.

“There’s certainly an increase in volume … and when there’s greater volume there, we have an increased awareness,” of the potential for crime, said Capt. Ryan Butler of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Spokesmen for the two area malls – Northlake Mall, just outside of Huntersville; and Concord Mills in Cabarrus County – said that, per company policy, they do not comment on the mall’s security procedures.

“The safety of our shoppers and employees is always our top priority,” a statement attributed to Concord Mills officials emailed to the Observer said. “Concord Mills has a detailed security plan in place for the holidays, which we will continually evaluate and modify as needed.”

A big part of the malls’ security plan involves area law enforcement – the CMPD’s North District, which covers Northlake Mall, and the Concord Police Department.

“Our planning goes on multiple levels … and we just don’t look at the mall, we look at that whole stretch of W.T. Harris Boulevard just because it’s a large retail presence,” said Butler, commander of the CMPD’s North District.

“We have set meetings throughout the year. Just like the residential areas have a neighborhood association, we have standing monthly meetings with the retail vendors inside Northlake (Mall), the vendors at Northlake Commons, and one for the shops over by the Target store.”

However, for the CMPD, that planning goes beyond just crime prevention, according to Butler.

“We work with the mall and the property managers for all the outparcels, first with the traffic pattern to reduce congestion,” Butler said. “There are a lot of folks who are regular customers, and a lot who are there due to the holiday shopping.

“Inside the mall, there’s staffing – private security officers, officers employed through our secondary employment program – that’s increased. Then there’s a variety of CMPD resources that we use – regular on-duty officers, officers due for overtime, our Citizens On Patrol unit, and officers from our reserve unit – during the holiday out there.”

That multi-layered plan has helped cut auto vehicle larceny incidents at Northlake Mall down from 10 in December 2010 to just one last December. According to Butler, this year’s numbers are on track for an all-time low.

As the state’s largest tourist attraction – 17.6 million visitors in 2005 alone, according to published reports – Concord Mills has always had an above-average police presence. The Concord Police Department established a substation there when the mall opened in September 1999.

“Our interactions are daily with mall security; we’re up and down Concord Mills Boulevard and Bruton Smith Boulevard all day long,” said Concord Police chief Gary Gacek. “With the substation there, that adds to our presence.”

Like Northlake Mall, Gacek said Concord Mills employs not only its own private security force but off-duty officers from both the CPD and Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office.

That has also helped Concord Mills cut down on auto larceny crimes – from a high of 150 in 2013 alone down to 50 this year, according to Gacek.

“That’s why we have an increased presence – as a deterrent,” Gacek said. “There’s three ingredients you need for a crime: you need a motivated offender, a suitable target or victim, and an absence of capable guardianship. We represent the capable guardianship in that equation.

“You’ll always have motivated offenders, you’ll have suitable targets or victims in the form of additional vehicles, so we increase our capable guardianship, which is our presence in and around the mall area.”

Bill Kiser is a freelance writer:

Holiday shopping tips

▪ Park and walk in well-lit areas.

▪ Walk with confidence, be aware of people around you, and know where you parked.

▪ Always lock your car doors after leaving or entering your car.

▪ Have your car keys in your hand so that you don’t have to linger before entering your car. Check the back seat before you get in.

▪ Don’t leave packages on the car seats. Keep packages out of sight, in the trunk of under a covered rear cargo area.

▪ Pay with checks or credit cards when possible. Don’t flash large amounts of cash.

▪ Don’t leave any purchases or your purse unattended while shopping or in a dressing room.

▪ Try to carry as little as possible. Make multiple trips to your vehicle to store your purchases.

▪ Never leave your children alone.

▪ Teach your children to find a cashier or a security officer and ask for help if they get separated from you.

▪ Report all suspicious activity. Call 911 with a description.

Source: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police