Tupelo mall, police focus on keeping shoppers safe

BY DENNIS SEID
Daily Journal

TUPELO – When Lawanda Ferguson shops, she seldom thinks about her safety.

“If something's going to happen, it's going to happen, and there's not a lot you can do,” she said. “But I don't worry about things like that.”

Ferguson, like thousands of other shoppers, visits The Mall at Barnes Crossing, Wal-Mart, Kroger and a host of other stores and restaurants regularly.

Open to the public, these places can do little if a deranged person decides to start killing people, law enforcement says. And when these incidents do occur, they top the headlines and newscasts.

The latest tragedy happened Wednesday in Omaha, Neb., when a man walked into a mall, shot and killed eight people, wounded several others and then killed himself.

In February, a shooting at a Salt Lake City mall killed five. In July, a Somalian immigrant pleaded guilty to working with terrorists in a plot to blow up a mall in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

While these incidents are far and few between, local officials say security is always a priority, whether it's at a megamall, a sporting venue or a school.

“It's a sad, terrible situation that happened in Omaha, and we're praying for the families of the victims,” said Jeff Snyder, general manager of The Mall at Barnes Crossing. “I don't know the situation or the circumstances of what happened there, but I can say that from our perspective, we are focused on the safety of everyone here.”

Prevention police
Tupelo Police Chief Harold Chaffin said vigilance is key in preventing any potential problem.

“You just have to be vigilant and be aware of what's going on,” he said. “We tell our officers in their checks in and around the mall, the schools and elsewhere to always look around to see what's happening. You have to be observant and take notice.”

But if someone is bent on hurting others in a public place, there are no clear-cut solutions.

“There's not very much you can do at times, and what happened in Omaha was certainly unfortunate,” Chaffin noted.

Chaffin said business owners, employees and customers can help.

“If you see something or hear something, you should call the police,” he said.

Preventive security measures also can help.

For example, the mall has exterior and interior cameras that are monitored constantly, and security personnel maintain a high profile.

“Our security people are all uniformed and state-certified,” Snyder said. “We don't have plain-clothed officers, but some of our retailers do have them.”

In addition, the Tupelo Police Department maintains a presence at the mall on Tupelo's north side.

“The mall does a great job with their security, and we work well with them,” said Chaffin, who added that more officers patrol the area during the holidays.

Ferguson says she likes seeing security throughout her shopping trips, loading a couple of bags into her trunk after a lunchtime shopping trip to the mall.

Like Ferguson, Louisa Browning said she's not worried that some madman will start shooting up the mall or anywhere else she goes.

“I'm more worried when I drive on the highway,” she said.

Contact Daily Journal business editor Dennis Seid at 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.