UPDATE: I missed the Leader article on this, which contains some information that elaborates on and corrects the TV station info. Corrections have been ade in the text. Also, the Leader does not state that the new cops will be exclusive to malls, just that “patrols will be stepped up.” It also mentions that Mayor Counts wants to ask businesses to help pay for the new officers. That is a good idea, but I suspect they will say no.
Well, not quite like that. On January 21, a man allegedly tried to kidnap a child in the parking lot at Schnuck’s in Arnold. To me, the event sounds more weird and creepy than truly dangerous:
“He touched part of her body as he walked by. She was kind of unnerved by it. He said he was sorry. He kept on. He was in the store. They kind of ran through aisles, running into each other now and then,” said Arnold Police Chief, Robert Shockey. “She went to her car with her groceries and her two children…the suspect came up behind her and grabbed her 4 year old by the back of his coat collar. She grabbed her son and screamed. The suspect took off on foot. Some Good Samaritans came her way when she started screaming and called the police.”
In the wake of this, mayor Ron Counts has proposed hiring four new police officers to patrol parking lots of the city’s shopping centers. Presumably this would include Arnold Commons (where Lowe’s is), Richardson Crossing (where Schnuck’s is), the Walmart/Shop N’ Save area, Arnold Crossroads (where Hotshots is), Arnold Park Mall (where Hobby Lobby is), and Jefferson County Plaza (where Home Depot is). This would cost the city about $250,000 per year ($280k says the Leader, including uniforms and whatnot).
First we must ask if this is necessary. The city claims it is because, while the number of city officers (36 says KMOV, 47 says the Leader) has not increased since 2000, the number of calls has almost doubled, from about 12,000 per year to about 22,000. This may be an argument for more officers, period, but these new officers would be assigned specifically to the shopping centers, according to the proposal.
So second, we must ask, are the shopping centers in need of more enforcement? Note first of all that the alleged kidnapper was apprehended pretty quickly under the city’s current patrolling system (he didn’t make it out of the shopping center). Also, in the KMOV report linked above on the new cops proposal, police say there has been no spike in shopping center crime, despite the over-the-top intro that anchor Sharon Reed gave. Next, let’s look at the city’s crime-mapping data to see what crime does occur at these locations. Here’s a map from September of last year:
So there is some crime in the shopping areas, and even a couple of assaults (one of which was domestic). Most of what you see, though, is theft and shoplifting – most assaults and property crimes take place elsewhere. And shoplifting is a problem for the businesses more so than it is for shoppers. Which is why some are saying, why don’t the developers of these shopping centers pay for security? You see private security at most malls. Perhaps the developers of each of the aforementioned shopping centers could go in together and pay for a roving security guard or two, especially since the developers have variously been recipients of TIF money, TDD money, and eminent domain from the city.
KMOV says in their piece that the mayor is worried about perception. Arnold gets most of its money from sales taxes, so it can’t have shoppers feeling nervous about shopping in the city. Of course, the stores in these shopping centers should feel the same way, all the more reason for them to pursue a joint private security program.
One wonders if this could be a case of “not letting a crisis go to waste.” Maybe the alleged kidnapping was seen as a way to get people to approve of using city reserve funds to hire new police that city leaders think Arnold needs. The parking lot assignments the new cops are promised to receive could be changed at any time and they could become regular patrol officers. If this is the case, let a proposal for new police stand on its own. I wonder, though, if the developers didn’t come up with this idea. Since they know they can get what they want from Arnold, perhaps a little bird suggested to the mayor that the city should patrol the parking lots so as not to threaten Arnold’s tax revenue. That would save the developers from having to pay for it.