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Mall of Memphis carts continue bid to improve security image

The Commercial Appeal - Thursday, June 15, 1995

Author: Ron Maxey The Commercial Appeal

The trip from the parking lot just got shorter at the Mall of Memphis , where four customer courtesy carts have gone into use transporting patrons to and from their cars.

The four-occupant, golf cart-type units are the latest step in the mall's effort to rebuild public confidence, eroded over the past few years by some highly publicized parking lot crimes.

This is just another ingredient in that process, said mall manager Ray Baxter. But in addition to the security element, which is certainly there, this is a customer service we wanted to offer.

The carts, which were put into use last week, patrol the mall's parking lot during the afternoon and evening, providing transportation to the door for patrons who need assistance or who don't feel comfortable walking.

Uniformed security officers drive the carts, one of which is assigned to each of the parking lot's quadrants.

The carts are four-wheeled, battery-operated vehicles with a hard top and curtains that can be lowered in inclement weather. They can accommodate the driver and three passengers.

Baxter said the vehicles don't have a particular route and operational hours are not set in stone. He said anyone wanting a ride shouldn't have to wait long for a vehicle to come by if the carts are in service at the time.

In addition to the carts, the mall has three white Ford Explorer utility vehicles that patrol the lot and can offer assistance.

Between the Explorers and these (the carts), I think that's all the presence we need in the parking lot, said Baxter, who said he didn't anticipate expanding the cart service.

This is a way to redeploy our security resources and provide a service, he said.

Mall officials are reluctant to release precise numbers on security personnel, but Baxter said the number at the Mall of Memphis has remained about the same since he's been there.

Baxter has made restoring confidence in the mall's safety a priority since moving to the Mall of Memphis last summer from Hickory Ridge Mall in southeast Shelby County, where Baxter also was manager. Both malls are owned by JMB Retail Properties.

The safety image of the Mall of Memphis , at Perkins and American Way at Interstate 240, was tarnished by the fatal 1992 shooting of 71-year-old Louise Warren, a mall employee, and the September 1993 wounding of 68-year-old Maryan Walker Elam. Both incidents occurred in the parking lot.

And though there was no connection, the mall also was associated with an April shooting death at a nearby gas station because of its proximity. News accounts identified the shooting site as being near the mall.

In light of such publicity, Baxter and JMB have tried through numerous measures to reassure the public that the mall on the whole is as safe a place to shop as other malls. They find some support in statistics that show less violent crime there than at some other shopping areas around the city. Also, a 1993 survey by The Commercial Appeal found the mall had the lowest auto theft rate of five major malls surveyed.

In addition to the new customer service vehicles, steps taken to improve security have included upgrading the parking lot lighting system early this year, adding the Explorer patrol vehicles and giving security personnel more visible uniforms.

Baxter said he hopes wooden guard towers, erected following the parking lot shootings, can be phased out as customers become accustomed to using the shuttles. Caption: photo By Eric Curtis Bond (Color) Calvin Cain, a security officer at the Mall of Memphis , says goodbye to customers Kerry Hunt (left) and Chevile Fields after picking them up.