After two days of poring over security footage, Albemarle County police on Tuesday released two grainy still photos of a man they suspect in the thwarted abduction of a 2-year-old girl from Fashion Square mall.
The images show a black man wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and jeans. Authorities say he’s the man they’ve been seeking since Saturday evening. Private security escorted the man off mall property Saturday afternoon but did not alert authorities, police said.
That call came from her parents at about 8 p.m. More than five hours earlier, as the girl walked slightly behind her parents, the man grabbed her and strode away. Her father chased the man, who gave the child up without a fight, said Carter Johnson, Albemarle County police spokeswoman.
The delayed notification left authorities pursuing leads with only a thin description of a man standing 6-feet, 3 inches tall and weighing 220 to 235 pounds.
Industry and law enforcement experts say mall security might have followed the letter of the law — and whatever company regulations they abide by — but many in the community are questioning why police weren’t called immediately.
“I’m really concerned that the security officers didn’t have the common sense to call the police on their own,” said Rick McCann, founder and CEO of Private Officer International, a private security firm in Charlotte, N.C. “In this case, one of two things will have happened … One, the suspect told them that he was armed, and there was some level of threat to the security officers, they weren’t properly trained or had been told not to be involved in these situations.”
Mall owner Simon Property Group did not return calls for comment. Mall Manager Karen Weiner was unavailable. AlliedBarton Security Services, which provides private security at the mall, has said only that the company is cooperating with the investigation.
Benjamin Camp, who operates a small business in the mall, said Fashion Square’s response to the incident has hurt his kiosk.
“We’re upset about the mall not putting out a statement,” he said Tuesday. “I saw an immediate effect … I made like $40 yesterday and I sat here for 11 hours.”
Developing and enforcing mall security policies is largely left up to the companies that own and operate the centers and individual property managers, retail and mall industry representatives said.
The International Council of Shopping Centers doesn’t offer industry-wide guidance for creating or applying security policy, said Malachy Kavanagh, a spokesman for the organization, which has more than 55,000 members in about 90 countries.
“[The] ICSC does not have industry-wide guidance for security officers,” Kavanagh said by email. “Each state has its own unique requirements, including the amount of hours of training required to work as a security officer. Additionally, most mall owners require additional training, in some cases up to 40 hours before an officer is allowed to work in their mall.”
Fashion Square’s contract security officers are not armed and that reflects the trend nationwide, said Kavanagh.
Under Virginia code, armed security officers have powers to arrest people. The law, however, says little about unarmed guards.
“As a rule most malls do not employ armed security officers,” he said. “However, many security supervisors are former law enforcement officers and may be licensed to carry a firearm in the state or county in which they are employed. However, mall management will determine if they are allowed to carry their firearm while on duty.”
Emails to malls in Richmond, Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg and the Washington suburbs for comment regarding their security policies and guidelines were not returned Tuesday.
Fashion Square mall opened 32 years ago and has about 70 stores and 577,000 square feet of space.
Simon Property Group currently owns or has an interest in 333 retail real estate properties in North America and Asia covering 241 million square feet.
In Virginia, Simon has about 10 properties, including The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Arlington; Potomac Mills in Woodbridge; Fairfax Court; Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester; and Virginia Center Commons in Glen Allen.