Attention Shoppers: Police Call for Improved Security at Malls

Police say more officers and surveillance cameras are needed at Massachusetts shopping malls.

Auburn Police Chief Andy Sluckis has been pushing for change at the Auburn Mall for years. That change is finally coming, and he says it should be the foundation for other malls.

In May 2016, police were called to the Silver City Galleria in Taunton after a deadly stabbing. In February 2017, the South Shore Plaza was put on lockdown after shots were fired between rival gangs.

Those types of incidents make the news. But it is cell phone video in Auburn telling the inside story of mall security. In December 2016, police say two girls were fighting over a boy at the Auburn Mall. As an Auburn Police officer is seen cuffing one, the incident escalates. One lone officer was left to break up the fight while trying to cuff a second person. The video shows it's nearly two and a half minutes until mall security arrives, unarmed.

"When I actually saw the video and saw what he had to endure to restore order, that's when I said 'Enough is enough,'" Sluckis recalled.

He says the mall hires his officers, but it went from hiring two down to just officer, with no backup.

"It was problematic”," said Sluckis. "[The fight] was the catalyst that made me come to the decision I was no longer going to let one officer work alone."

The chief has been pushing for mall security cameras for 10 years. He called for cameras again after a woman was murdered in the mall parking garage in 2014, and when a man's body was found in a mall dumpster.

In both cases, Sluckis says cameras would have helped their investigation.

"It's something I felt very strongly about," Sluckis said. "It's 2017 and there's really no reason not to have cameras in every mall."

After years of asking Simon Malls to install cameras, Sluckis says the latest meeting with Simon's new mall managers and regional managers is bringing change.

"They will be installing cameras in the mall and having additional police officers work there, which is something I was really happy about," he said.

Police will monitor the cameras at the mall entrance and food court will be monitored remotely, as well.

But what about other malls? None would talk about if they had cameras. So the NBC Boston Investigators went to more than a dozen malls, tracking if they had visible cameras. Many did not.

We also tracked police runs to the malls.

"We are generally there every day for one thing or another," Sluckis said of the Auburn Mall.

That town is not alone. Police made nearly 5,000 runs to the Natick Mall last year alone.

Local police were called for everything from shoplifting to drugs to assault.

"There has been an uptick of gang activity recently, which is why we think having the cameras in the mall will be a significant help," he said. "Gangs coming in from Worcester creating problems, fighting one another at the mall. It was problematic."

Auburn Police will be teaming up with the Worcester gang unit.

According to a Rasmussen Reports poll, 70 percent of Americans think more surveillance cameras in public is a good idea. The poll was taken shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings, where surveillance cameras helped capture the suspects.

It took over a decade of pushing, but the deal Sluckis has worked out with the mall could be a model for a lot of other cities. He says he is pleased with Simon Malls.

"It's about persistence and working together," he explained. "Being community partners."

Simon confirms to NBC Boston Investigators they will be installing cameras at the entrances and in the parking areas by this fall, exactly as the chief requested.

Many large stores like Macy's have their own security cameras. Sluckis says when a man was stabbed in the mall parking lot in March, it was security cameras inside Macy's that helped ID the suspects.

Below, you can see our research on which malls have cameras and security presence.

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