Concerned by the three shootings and numerous car thefts at the Galleria at South Bay since it opened last summer, city officials and mall representatives are trying to find new ways to make mall security more visible.
Within the next few weeks, city workers will paint two Galleria security vehicles black and white and place rotating amber lights on their roofs so they resemble police cars, Police Chief Roger Moulton said last week. The vehicles are currently off-white with a Galleria insignia on the sides.
"We are thinking that if we want to increase police visibility, particularly in the parking areas, little white pickup trucks just don't do it," said City Manager Timothy Casey. "We are trying to start with ideas that are cost-effective."
Two of the three shootings, including one in November in which Hawthorne City Councilman David York was shot by a man trying to steal his car, took place in the parking lot.
The second shooting occurred two weeks before Christmas when when a man with a handgun was chased from the mall into the parking lot by a security guard. The man fired twice before he was arrested by police. The third shooting occurred last month at a jewelry store in the mall. A 23-year-old Redondo Beach man was seriously injured when he was shot while trying to stop a robbery. No one died in any of the shootings.
Moulton said that car thefts are one of the biggest problems at the Galleria and that police detectives are investigating the possibility that most of the thefts are the work of an organized ring that concentrates on shopping malls.
Last month, 55 cars were stolen in Redondo Beach, 12 of them from the Galleria parking lot. "That is 21%," Moulton said. "That causes me a lot of concern."
At a meeting several weeks ago, representatives of the mall owners, Forest City Enterprises Inc., and city officials agreed that off-duty police officers who work as part-time security guards at the mall should be encouraged to wear police uniforms while working as security guards. Six Redondo Beach police officers work part time at the mall, city officials said.
"It is important that people realize they are doing business with professionally trained police officers," Casey said. "We know that a majority of the security guards at the Galleria are either off-duty Redondo police officers or off-duty officers from other jurisdictions. But while that may be common knowledge to the management and the city, we were concerned that it is is not common knowledge to the patrons, merchants and would-be assailants."
The City Council approved the uniform idea, but Moulton said the proposal is on indefinite hold because of concerns raised by the Redondo Beach Police Officers' Assn. The police officers are concerned that the city may be held liable for injuries that might occur while the officers work as private security guards, and they object to the uniform being worn for work that pays wages lower than those of an on-duty officer, he said.
City officials and mall representatives also hope that construction of a $2.1-million bus terminal near the mall's parking garage, which will include a permanent police information center, will help increase police visibility in the area. Construction is expected to begin this summer, and the city has allocated funds for two full-time officers to work at the center.
Moulton and Casey said the security measures are not unlike those that have been taken at other regional shopping malls, which they said tend to attract a certain amount of crime by their very nature.
"It is a general phenomenon that when you put that many people, businesses and vehicles together, you are going to have crime. The problem here is no more than at any other shopping center," said Moulton, who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department for 21 before joining the Redondo Beach force.
"It is highly unusual to have shootings like this, but we could go several years and not have another one."