Shopping for Safety Solution at U.S. Malls

Shopping centers try to strike a balance between shopper safety and freedom.

Dec. 6, 2007— -- Despite Wednesday's massacre at an Omaha, Neb., shopping mall, one day after the incident it was business as usual at many other shopping centers across the country.

"You think about it, you know, but life goes on, doesn't it?" said one mother, shopping with her daughter Thursday.

But some shoppers told ABC News they are afraid.

"I'd like to see more security people around so that it's safer for holiday shoppers," said another woman.

Malls face a difficult dilemma in balancing security interests without scaring off customers.

"The joy of holiday time is the ability to get out in public," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday. "And we don't want to sacrifice the freedom of movement entirely, so we want to have the right balance between putting in some prudent security measures but also not so confining the ability to enter our commercial retail establishments that people don't wind up [not] wanting to go to shop."

Most U.S. malls don't have a lot of heavily armed, visible guards. Much of the work is done behind the scenes.

Security efforts include the presence of roving security guards posing as customers, and the use of surveillance cameras. But most of the security measures currently in place are designed to respond to an attack, rather than prevent one.

Shopping centers like the Eastland Mall in Evansville, Ind., are working closely with local police on how to recognize and respond to threats by conducting training drills using paintball guns.

At the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey, management has an emergency warning system in case of an armed intruder.

"One of the things we've done recently was actually employ a system where we can alert stores through almost a reverse 911 system, where we can call them and communicate if there's a situation in the building," said general manager Mike McAvinue.

Security at malls in other countries can be much more restrictive. Despite a history filled with terrorist violence, Israel has never had a single mall shooting.

That country's largest mall has nine entrances, each guarded with metal detectors and armed security personnel. Every vehicle entering the parking area is checked by two guards.

Asked by ABC News if he would describe the security measures in Israel as very strict, Jerusalem mall general manager Gideon Avrami said, "Indeed, but we do it happily."

"People today come to places like shopping malls only if they are secured enough," he said.

Since 9/11, some U.S. malls have taken preventive measures to catch violent offenders before they act.

So far, 6,000 mall security officers have completed online security courses, including 10 guards from the Westroads Mall in Omaha.

"Some of the things that, you know, a guard will be taught within the training program is to look for things that are out of the norm -- that you would see, for instance, if somebody were to come into a center and be wearing bulky clothing in summer, or it's just out of character with what other people are wearing. Or acting in a particular manner or being nervous," said Malachy Kavanagh, vice president of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

But will American shoppers tolerate more draconian security?

"I'd hate to see us get to the point that we have to be searched every time we come in and out of a public facility," a female shopper at a suburban Washington, D.C., mall told ABC News.

"I think as long as they keep things secure, have more security ... that's fine," said one male shopper at the same mall. "I mean, doing all the extra work, like we're in an airport, I think that's unnecessary."

For the United States, finding the right balance between security and commerce is still a work in progress.

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