Crimes at shopping centers: 9 investigated in northeast Ohio

(Source: AP Images)
(Source: AP Images)
Published: Nov. 21, 2016 at 2:15 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 22, 2016 at 7:36 AM EST
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CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Cleveland 19's investigative unit obtained police reports for nine Northeast Ohio shopping centers, learning that violent crimes appear to be rare, but also, that the statistics don't appear to tell the whole story.

A victim of one of those crimes spoke about her experience at Legacy Village last April.

The woman, who didn't want to reveal her name, said she went shopping at the Giant Eagle at the mall at night, just like she had done so many times before. She said the parking lot was well lit, there were cameras, she knew the employees at the store so never thought twice about it.

She said she was speaking with her mom on her cell phone, got into her car and came face to face with a strange man in her car.

"He had a weapon in his hand I just looked at it," said the victim.

The man was 31-years-old, and she said he had a hat and scarf pulled over his face. She said he said something to her about a drug addiction and that he wanted her to drive him to her bank.

Instead of following his direction, she made a decision that may have changed her life.

"I went to a car that had their headlights on. I went to somebody I knew they were in their car I could knock on their window and I could ask for help," said the victim.

In the 911 calls of the incident, the victim told the dispatcher that she "ran screaming like a freak."

The Lyndhurst police department arrived on scene within minutes, and the victim said Legacy Village's mall security was there even faster. The suspect was arrested about six hours later the victim said.

She said she doesn't take time to think about what could have happened if she had acted differently.

"I was going to get out of there no matter what," said the victim. "I have two little girls I'm too busy I have no time for all this."  

She said even after her incident at the mall, she still believes in the best in people, hopes the best for the young man who attempted a crime that night, and still shops at the same Giant Eagle.

It's a scary story, but how often does something like this happen at Northeast Ohio shopping malls?

In hundreds of pages of police reports for nine shopping centers from January 2015 to November 2016, Beachwood Place had the highest number of reported aggravated or strong arm robberies at five. SouthPark Mall in Strongsville had the highest number of reported car thefts during that same time period, five, two of those thefts were from rental car agencies.

As far as reported thefts of personal belongings, which would include things like car break-ins, purse snatchings and pick-pockets, Legacy Village had the highest reported count at nearly a 100. 

Aurora Farms reported 53, and SouthPark mall reported 47 personal thefts of personal belongings.  

None of the malls had high numbers of reported violent crimes.

Tim Dimoff, a nationally renowned security expert, estimated the real incidences of crime are likely "four or more times" higher than reported.

Dimoff said malls are attractive to criminals because there are a lot of people and a lot of cars — meaning a lot of easy chances for thieves.

Dimoff saw two potential reasons that the reported may be smaller than the actual numbers.

The first, he said that many people likely don't file police reports for smaller personal property thefts because insurance deductibles may be higher than the value of the items stolen.

"There is more non-reporting than there is reporting at any mall shopping center any location," said Dimoff.

Dimoff pointed to a second reason as well.

"We have facilities - shopping centers, things like that - that are trying to protect their images and not reporting stuff or not reporting the true the numbers. There's no law that says they have to," said Dimoff.

Malls don't have to provide their crime data publicly.

Each of the malls that responded to requests for crime statistics stated that security was a priority at their facility, but none would share their internal crime statistics to compare those to police numbers.

Despite the possibly skewed statistics, Dimoff said he did not think that malls are inherently unsafe.

"I don't think they're not safe places to be, I think it's just that they're attractive because of the number of people, cars and shopping that are there. It's going to be much more attractive than going to someplace that only has a handful of vehicles," said Dimoff

He went on to say, in his opinion, malls have done a good job stepping up security in recent years with added security patrols and surveillance cameras. Dimoff also said the fact there are many people around is a positive in terms of safety.

"Overall, malls attract criminals. It's a mecca. But it's minor crimes. Luckily it's a lot of minor stuff that happens and not really a lot of major stuff," said Dimoff.

As far as the minor crimes Dimoff said shoppers can protect themselves by taking several steps. He recommended shoppers not leave valuables in a car where they can be easily seen. He said shoppers should be aware of their surroundings - which means not being distracted by a cell phone - and if something seems strange say something to security.

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