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Shopping Mall Safety: What to Know Before You Go

Research reveals why shoppers should consider both sales and security

If I were to ask you to visualize an area of high crime, what would you mentally picture? Perhaps a dark alley, a deserted parking lot, or some other type of shadowy venue. In reality, one of the most popular crime destinations is brightly lit, crowded, and inviting to criminals and law abiders alike (albeit for different reasons): the shopping mall.

Why are criminals drawn to shopping malls? In a word: Opportunity. As most people understand through logic and personal experience (hopefully more the former than the latter), malls provide target-rich settings for criminal gain.

I have prosecuted a diverse spectrum of crimes that took place at the mall, ranging from battery to burglary, from drug sales to human trafficking, and everything in between. Research corroborates this data.

Shopping Mall Statistics

Researchers have examined what types of crime are prevalent at shopping malls, as well as how and when they occur. Vania Ceccato et al. (2018) studied crime in a Scandinavian shopping center,[i] resulting in findings that arguably reflect spatial, retail, and building layout patterns that can be applied to shopping malls around the world.

In terms of crime statistics, they found that 68 percent of recorded incidents involved vandalism and public disturbance, 16 percent involved property crimes, and 16 percent involved violence. Regarding peak hours for crime commission, they found the most vulnerable window of time was between 6:00 and 8:00 pm.

Comparing weekdays to weekends, Ceccato et al. found that public disorder actions were usually higher on weekends than weekdays, as compared with property crimes such as shoplifting and burglary.

In terms of seasonal crime patterns, they found that spring (especially the month of April) and autumn (November) revealed both a high number of crimes committed as well as the crime rate. They also found that July had slightly more violence, along with the autumn months of October and November.

Obviously, malls in different areas might generate different statistics. But one arguably consistent theme relevant to geography is where within the mall crime occurs.

Public Space and Public Safety

Most shopping malls do not have metal detectors (yet), and all are welcome. Ceccato et al. discussed the challenges posed by the fact that a shopping mall is privately owned, yet open to the public. They note that unfortunately, this means that patrons are able to freely and legally enter the mall, even though some end up misusing internal public spaces such as stairs and toilets.

They also recognize that some individuals or groups frighten mall patrons merely by being visible at a mall entrance, illustrating the tension between the right to visit the mall and the right to feel safe while shopping.

Inside the mall, when it comes to geography and crime, apparently, location matters. In the mall they studied, Ceccato et al. found that 64 percent of crime occurred within 10 percent of “micro-places,” particularly the food court, followed by two fast food establishments, then two entrances, followed closely by two of the main corridors.

What about the area surrounding the mall? Other research has explored this issue.

There Goes the Neighborhood? Shopping Malls as “Crime Attractors”

Vijay K. Mago et al. (2014) researched how crimes occur at and around “crime attractors” such as shopping malls.[ii] They began by noting the obvious: Crime attractors are attractive to criminals because there are plenty of potential victims. In addition, according to crime pattern analysis, crimes are also committed in the vicinity of crime attractors.

Mago et al. found, however, that criminals do not necessarily commit crimes within the immediate vicinity of crime attractors, but rather, commit crimes on the way as they travel toward crime attractors. They note that prior research has established that offenders seek to limit the distance between their home and the location where they travel to commit a crime.

They recognize other factors that might determine where offenders offend include where they work, go to school, or frequent for recreation, as well as the general accessibility of the crime attractor and its array of business and entertainment options.

How to Protect Your Wallet as Well as Yourself

Mall patrons care about both shopping and security; so focus on both. Take advantage of doorbuster deals while avoiding distractions—such as texting while walking. Keep your belongings close, your eyes and ears open (no sunglasses or earbuds), and your radar up. Not only will you enhance your perception, but your aura of alertness also makes you an undesirable target.

Mall safety is not about paranoia, but preparedness. Proactive perception allows you to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your wallet, as you enjoy both sales and safety.


[i]Vania Ceccato, Örjan Falk, Pouriya Parsanezhad, and Väino Tarandi (2018) Crime in a Scandinavian Shopping Centre. In: Ceccato V., Armitage R. (eds) Retail Crime. Crime Prevention and Security Management. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

[ii]Vijay K. Mago, Richard Frank, Andrew Reid, and Vahid Dabbaghian. “The Strongest Does Not Attract All but It Does Attract the Most—Evaluating the Criminal Attractiveness of Shopping Malls Using Fuzzy Logic.” Expert Systems: International Journal of Knowledge Engineering and Neural Networks 31, No. 2 (2014):121–35.