TORONTO — In the wake of a shooting that left shoppers frantically scrambling for shelter, Yorkdale Mall general manager Claire Santamaria and her staff have covered a lot of ground in a bid to ensure consumers and store owners feel safe.
They’ve visited almost every one of the Toronto shopping centre’s 270 tenants to talk about how seriously management is taking the Aug. 30 altercation between two groups of men in the high-end mall that saw two shots fired and sent hundreds of people streaming out into the parking lot in search of safety.
“This is our second home,” said Santamaria. “If we learned anything last week it is that we can come together very very quickly and act very efficiently and professionally, but with a lot of heart.”
The mall, she said, has Toronto Police Service officers on-site year-round and is sticking to its usual routine of regularly reviewing its emergency protocol and security resources — measures security and retail experts say are crucial for shopping centres because they have a lot more at stake than just consumer safety.
University of Toronto real estate professor William Strange said shopping centres stand to lose profits if they can’t get a handle on violence.
“The malls have very strong incentives to fix this kind of thing,” said Strange.
“Mall owners want to make the mall a good and safe place for customers to come because if customers come, the tenants will make a lot of money and if the tenants make a lot of money, there will be keen competition for space and (mall-operators) will make a lot of money from it.”
Though he noted that mall shootings are far from being a “big and distinct” problem in Canada, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if Yorkdale and other shopping centres hire extra security guards, put up more cameras and start thinking about the “broken windows” theory — a 1982 hypothesis from two American social scientists that suggests if a space has visible signs of crime or disorder, including vandalism, it will send the message that violent behaviour is more likely to go unpunished because the space is already being neglected.
Strange said that theory is part of why mall owners, who “aggressively manage” properties, are always trying to send the message that misconduct will be caught.
“If you think about the number of shootings that have taken place inside of malls relative to the regrettably huge number of shootings Toronto has had the rest of the year, it is a relatively tiny number that partly does reflect the fact that getting in trouble in a mall gets someone noticed faster,” he said.
Aside from the shooting, Santamaria said Yorkdale has faced “other incidents” since it was built in 1964, but the situations have all been “very different.”
Among them are a handful of stabbings and a shooting in the mall’s parking lot in 2013 that left a 23-year-old man dead and a 24-year-old injured.
However, prior to Thursday’s Yorkdale shooting, most recent discussions around mall shootings in Canada have centred around another Toronto shopping destination: the Eaton Centre.
In June 2012, the Eaton Centre was where Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, and Ahmed Hassan, 24, were killed and five others wounded.
David Nako, who worked as a security consultant at the Eaton Centre during the 1990s and now owns Nako Security Consulting, visited the Eaton Centre within a month of the shooting and noticed it had changed its security technology and had two guards at lunchtime located in the food court, where the shooting happened.
Following such incidents, he and Strange agreed that malls should beef up security and consider installing additional surveillance cameras to deter potential criminals and catch anyone doing anything illegal.
Nako also said he usually recommends malls do a complete security review, analyze the patrol methods security guards use and ensure their staff are trained to handle serious incidents.
“A lot of incidents can be prevented just by having security presence and manpower to patrol your area on a regular basis and be equipped to handle these types of new situations,” he said, noting that were unheard of until recently.
“If you can remove the threat in 30 seconds instead of five minutes or four minutes you may be saving 25 or 30 lives or more.”
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press
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