3 INVESTIGATES: How safe are our malls? - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

3 INVESTIGATES: How safe are our malls?

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

Three high-profile mall incidents have happened in less than two months.

Police responded to a shooting in the parking lot on Black Friday. A firework incident the day after Christmas and a credit card theft, in which the suspect was carrying a gun inside the mall in early January.

We dug through 911 call logs to see how often, and why, police are being called to Hamilton Place and Northgate Malls.

Shoplifting, theft and car accidents in the parking lot are most common.

But over the holiday season we saw more serious calls.

We wanted to know what's being done to make your shopping experience safer.

911 caller: “Hi, we're at the Hamilton Place Mall. Gunshots have been fired."

It's a moment of panic inside one of Chattanooga's malls. 

911 caller: “There's a shooting at Hamilton Place Mall." 

Reports of shots fired.

911 caller: “Run, I want to get out of here, I want to get out of here. Please miss, everyone's running."

The day after Christmas, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

But what was thought to be a shooting turned out to be something else.

911 caller: “Wait miss, miss, someone just said they set off a firecracker."

911 caller: “Oh, it was a firecracker."

A false alarm that resulted in the arrest of four people and launched a Channel 3 investigation into how many times police are called to Hamilton Place.

Call logs show police responded more than 300 times this past holiday season - an average of 5 times a day.

Nearly half of all calls were for shoplifting, theft, and minor crashes in the parking lot:

  • Police responded 86 times to shoplifting and theft reports
  • 70 times for car crashes and traffic stops
  • 17 times for fights and assaults inside the mall

While many of these were minor offenses, the property owners say they are taking a closer look at security.

“Their fear is completely understandable and justified, but like i said we don't take those concerns lightly and we're doing everything we can to address them,” said Stacey Keating, spokesman for CBL, owners of Hamilton Place.

Security officers are now on staff, but a spokesperson would not tell us how many.

“We can't disclose the number of security guards of off-duty police officers,” Keating explained.
            
Starting Friday, anyone under the age of 18 has to be with a parent or guardian after 4:00pm. Hamilton Place says more security changes are in the works, but those are kept private. 

“And the reason we don't discuss them publicly is because pulling the curtain back would compromise our efforts,” said Keating.
            
Local police have been open about their strategy.

Chattanooga police Lt. Shawn Hickey tells Channel 3 ”Hamilton Place, that area itself, is just so huge it can be challenging at times."

Channel 3 was there last year when officers went through active shooter situation at the mall.

Police are now working on how to respond faster, especially when shoppers are in a panic. 

“The last incident there where they had the firecrackers going off, again those things you can not plan for,” Hickey said. “So do we enter in the same way everybody is running out, or is there another way where officers could say, hey come in door 6."

Police say the firecracker incident, and a previous parking lot shooting both involved gang members. Police say they can't limit who shops here, but they will be watching. 

Lt. Hickey continued, “For them money is money. It doesn't matter who's spending the money, but if you're going to come and spend the money we want you to abide by the rules to where everyone can feel more safe."
 
We also looked into calls made to Northgate Mall. Police responded there on average once a day. The majority of calls were also for shoplifting and theft.

CBL owns both properties and says the changes to its youth escort policy are only happening here at Hamilton Place.

They haven't had the need to make those change at Northgate.

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