By Dan Miller
February 17, 2009
I could see dozens of police cars right there in the shopping center parking lot.
And why wouldn't I assume that?
Just this week alone, we've run stories in our newscasts about a fearsome situation involving disruptive teenagers at Opry Mills Mall, and about how concerns over safety and security appear to be scaring away customers from Hickory Hollow and other malls here in Nashville.
But I wasn't in Nashville.
I was pulling off the interstate into a little shopping center just west of Birmingham as my family and I were heading toward Mississippi.
And I quickly realized what I was seeing wasn't a problem.... in fact, it might be a solution.
Yep, I happened upon what could be a simple answer for all the fears about gangs, crime and rowdiness at local shopping malls.
As I looked around, I realized this was a quiet, pleasant place where nobody would dare commit a crime, and where teenagers would certainly be hesitant to engage in loud, rowdy behavior.
At the far end of the parking lot dozens of police cars were neatly lined up in several rows.
The mere presence of so many police officers could, no doubt, do wonders at keeping troublemakers away.
They were parked in front of a community police precinct or substation.... or, perhaps, it was a main police station, I'm not certain.
Regardless, I saw it as a sensible and cost-effective way to deal with both safety at malls, and the enormous expense of running a city police department.
Imagine the benefit for city budgets, with malls providing free space, utilities and facilities for police precincts.... maybe even coupled with some cash incentives.
And think about the good news for mall tenants.
It would be a magnet for customers to shop at a place where they feel safe, secure and protected.
It's certainly not a new idea.
Simon Property Group, a company based in Indianapolis, owns some 300 malls in this country, and they've established police substations in 64 of those malls.
One of their malls in Boston leases space to the city for $1 a year, and even contributes more than $100,000 to police salaries there.
Think about it....
Free facilities for police departments, at no cost to the taxpayers....
And a constant presence around busy malls that would create a legitimate feeling of security for shoppers, theatre-goers, merchants and restaurants.
If that's not a win-win, what is?