Remembering the Marketplace of the Midsouth

MALL OF MEMPHIS HAS ITS EYE ON YOU

The Commercial Appeal - Thursday, September 21, 2000

Author: Toni Lepeska The Commercial Appeal

Mall of Memphis officials finished installing security cameras last week that will scan the interior and exterior of the shopping center, the latest effort to ward off crime.

Color monitors were installed at the customer service area, an open-air box in one of the mall's broad hallways. From the images on the screens, passersby know they could be presumably filmed during their shopping trip.

"That was deliberate," said Ron Filbert, Mall of Memphis vice president and general manager. "The paramount reason for this is not security. It's a proactive measure. We expect the bad guys to see the monitors and go elsewhere."

After purchasing the 20-year-old mall about a year ago, California-based American Mall Properties LLC Inc. launched an effort to recruit shoppers and improve the center's image.

As part of an $18 million renovation, police were invited by the mall to open a substation there.

Officers didn't expect to tackle a lot of crime, but they saw in the mall a place where they could interact with the public, a vital component of community policing.

The camera system cost mall owners almost a quarter of a million dollars. Mall of Memphis 's hired security company will monitor the cameras, which were installed by Memphis Communication Corp.

"Everybody's susceptible to crime," said Reg Udouj (pronounced You-Dodge), senior account executive of Memphis Communication Corp. "It's one of the best deterrents for a potential criminal or thief. It's the fear of being caught."

More than 20 cameras were installed. Security officers can see 16 images at a time from the monitors at customer service.

Key personnel, including Filbert, can use a computer to watch what the cameras see from an off-site location.

The cameras have zoom capabilities to get close-up shots. They can zoom far enough to capture a license plate in a parking lot - or document a scar on suspect.

"That's how sensitive the system is," said assistant security manager Jamie Moseley.

The system can be programmed to be motion-sensitive, and that image will appear automatically on a monitor. That's helpful with places such as the hallway behind the food court where people aren't supposed to be after hours, Moseley said.

Prints can be made of the images and quickly handed to police to help in the search and capture a suspect.

Officials said the images will be recorded and monitored 24 hours a day. Should police learn of a crime after the fact, officers can review the security tapes for help with their investigations.

Jamie Earwood, an employee of Tilt arcade and vanity license plate-makers Your Choice, expects the cameras to help deter shoplifters.

"They can describe what the person was wearing and what they stole. They can zoom in and catch them like that," Earwood said, snapping his fingers.

Lisa Powell, 28, of South Memphis, saw the monitors at customer service while shopping at the mall last week.

"I feel safe," she said, which will be important as the holiday shopping season approaches, she said.

Gaynette Lipman, a White Station-area resident who was sipping coffee and looking at magazines at the food court with her husband, Larry, wasn't aware of cameras.

"Big Brother? Big Brother?" she asked with a grin. "I welcome it. It makes me feel safer, but it's unfortunate we've come to this time in our society when people don't know how to monitor themselves. They take advantage of the situation, the freedom."

Her husband said he approved of management's attempt to address the mall's perceived safety issues.

Business operators, he said, have been using cameras to protect themselves for years, so "to extend it out into the mall is not that much of a difference."


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