Retail Traffic

Expert Q&A: Who's Accountable?

In the wake of last month's shootings at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, the retail industry is searching for answers as to why, for the third time in 2007, a U.S. mall was the scene for such carnage. Retail Traffic asked the head of the NRTA, which addresses security issues with landlords on behalf of its more than 300 retail members, with whom does the responsibility fall for mall security?

Retail Traffic: Who is ultimately responsible for mall security?

Paul Kinney: The mall owner, mall management and the retailers. It's a combination of all three. If I were a mall operator, I'd be sitting down with the local police chief to see how to go about making my mall safer.

RT: Why do you think shopping centers have increasingly become the sites of these kinds of mass shootings?

Kinney: Malls are easy places to get into. When was the last time you went to a sporting event or a concert and there weren't security personnel scrutinizing you and your belongings? Those entrances are manned and controlled by security people with responsibility. There they don't allow you to enter with fanny packs, backpacks and even purses without them first being searched. While I hope going to the mall doesn't ever get to that level of surveillance, something has to be done.

RT: Are more security guards the answer?

Kinney: Increasing their numbers is a step in the right direction. But, security guards have no authority, aren't adequately trained, and are not paid what they should be. I would like to see off-duty police officers in uniform that have been trained properly and can spot and know how to respond to these kinds of threats as they arise.

RT: What should retailers be addressing?

Kinney: They should be concerned with adequate training and additional security. I think the employees at the Von Maur store at the Westroads Mall did a great job getting the store's customers out of harm's way by corralling shoppers and retreating to storerooms and dressing rooms.

RT: What can retailers do if they perceive there isn't enough security at a property?

Kinney: I'd like to think mall owners and operators are on top of it. If not, the first thing they should do is attend the mall's tenant association's monthly meeting and express their concerns. They then need to report the plan of action — or lack of one — back to executives at their corporate headquarters. It is their responsibility to make sure the issues are addressed and resolved satisfactorily.

RT: Afterward, who should have taken the lead in quelling shoppers' and residents' fears, not to mention implementing measures to mitigate the chances of this happening again in the future?

Kinney: The Von Maur store president, Jim von Maur, was right there; he did a good job addressing the public and their concerns. As for the Westroads Mall owner, he could have been there, but I haven't seen anything he has done.

RT: Do you think too much media attention was given to this tragedy?

Kinney: No, I don't believe so. I think everybody who goes to the shopping center under the pretense that it is a safe environment needs to know about these incidents. The “it can't happen to me” way of thinking has got to go.

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