OKLAHOMA CITY – With thousands of people walking in and out of malls each day, officials say those shopping centers can be a hot spot for crime.
“It’s an easy target for criminals. It’s a crime of opportunity,” said Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow, with the Oklahoma City Police Department.
Over the years we have heard frightening stories of robberies, assaults and random attacks.
“He goes, ‘We don’t want a scene but we want what you’ve got,’ and pulled a gun. ‘We want your wallet, cell phone, car keys,” said Brett Clark, after he was robbed at gunpoint outside Penn Square Mall .
“As I was closing the door, out of nowhere he came and ripped it open and next thing I know, he’s right here,” said Shea Moseley.
“I’m more worried about the kids coming along and trying to sucker punch you,” said Shannon Petitt.
“Just to know in an instant, somebody has that power to take it away from you,” said Courtney, an armed robbery victim.
“I looked up and at the end of my van, there was a man with a gun telling me to give him all of my money, my phone,” she said.
On the third floor of the parking garage, the man demanded Courtney get into her van.
“He was pointing a gun at my face and I just said, ‘I’m not getting in the car with you,” she remembered.
When she saw another car headed her way, Courtney made a break for it.
Now, she still thinks about that terrifying encounter.
“It’s something that was life changing that could have been a lot worse than it was,” she said.
At the time, police said a man captured on surveillance video inside the mall was believed to be behind the attacks.
Unfortunately, he is still on the loose.
To find out just how much crime is taking place at two of Oklahoma City’s most popular shopping spots, we pulled all police calls for Penn Square and Quail Springs dating back to 2013.
At Quail Springs Mall, there were less than 700 crime related calls. At Penn Square, that number doubled to about 1,400.
Most of the calls were related to theft, but many involved violent crimes.
There are security officers at both malls, but authorities say they can’t see everything.
“I can tell you that we’ve seen a lot of cases where people are victimized because they are basically not paying attention. They might be fumbling around in their purse looking for their keys… talking on the cell phone,” said Sgt. Wardlow.
However, crime victims don’t feel the malls are doing enough.
“Had they had something better, you know, cameras at every exit, cameras in the parking lot,” Courtney said.
When looking into security measures, NewsChannel 4 started at Penn Square Mall.
From Bob Moore Chopper 4, we saw several security guards on duty, but some seemed to be more interested in us than what was going on in the parking lot.
Also from the air, we did not see any visible surveillance cameras outside the stores. Once on the ground, we couldn’t find those either.
From Penn Square, we headed to Quail Springs, a comparable mall in size that is also in Oklahoma City.
At Quail Springs, there were several security cameras hanging from the corners of the building with a bird’s-eye view of the parking lots.
Penn Square wouldn’t answer any questions about cameras, but released a short statement.
“The safety of our guests remains our top priority. We continue to work closely with the Oklahoma City Police Department as part of our comprehensive security program to provide the best possible shopping experience for all guests,” said Jeffrey Runnels, the general manager of Penn Square Mall.
Penn Square management also gave us a list of what shoppers can do to stay safe.
We remind our shoppers of the following safe shopping tips:
- When parking, be sure to lock your car and take your keys with you.
- Do not leave valuables in plain view in your car. Lock the valuables and all packages in the trunk or out of sight.
- When shopping after dark, ask a security guard, a friend or family member to accompany you to your car.
- Park in a well-lit area. Make note of where your car is parked and what mall entrance you use.
- Have your keys ready in your hand when leaving the shopping center to return to your car.
- Look inside and use your lock before getting inside. Lock your doors promptly.
- Keep valuables and money in a pocket or small purse with a strap that can be worn across your body.
- Keep you purse closed and secured. Do not put it down anywhere.
- Be discreet when paying for merchandise if you are carrying a large sum of cash.
- Stay alert to what is happening around you. If you notice anything suspicious, report it immediately to a security guard or a store employee.
“I think if you can’t make it 20 feet from the exit of the building to your parking spot without feeling at least somewhat safe… I mean, yeah, I shouldn’t have probably been on the phone, but I don’t blame myself for what happened,” said Courtney.
Courtney has not been back to Penn Square since the attack, saying the experience has traumatized her whole family.
“I’ve been scared at my house all the time,” said Bella, Courtney’s daughter.
“I was just so thankful that God could save her life,” said Mikenna, Courtney’s stepdaughter.
They are working to move past the incident and hope Courtney’s story will cause malls to do more to protect shoppers.
Neither Penn Square of Quail Springs would give us details on their security program, saying making that information public could compromise their efforts.
But Quail Springs did send us this statement:
“Our number one priority every day is for the safety and security of our employees and customers. As part of our daily operations, we have a customized public safety program in place that entails many different measures. Some of the measures are visible to our shoppers, other measures are not as visible. We do not discuss our specific safety measures, as in doing so we would compromise our efforts.”