Mall cops: Alleged kidnaper escorted, not reported
That a two-year-old child may have been briefly kidnapped by a stranger at a shopping mall is shocking enough. That police weren't notified until six hours after the private security force at Charlottesville Fashion Square escorted the man from the property has created a firestorm.
The public first learned of the Saturday, November 24, alleged attempted abduction the following afternoon when Albemarle County police issued a press release seeking help in finding a light-skinned, glasses-wearing black male approximately 6'3" tall and weighing between 220 and 235 pounds.
According to the release, the two-year-old girl was walking with her parents near Kay Jewelers between 2pm and 2:30pm when the suspect picked up the child from behind. Her father ran after the man, who released the toddler.
"The suspect did not get far with the child," says Albemarle police spokesperson Carter Johnson, noting that any time a stranger puts hands on and picks up a child, that's an attempted abduction. "That is a felony offense."
What's creating discomfort among parents and outrage in online forums is that Fashion Square security removed the suspect from the property without getting a name– or contacting police.
"That's a difficult one," says Johnson. "We work with security. Normally, they would hold the suspect, and we would make the arrest."
The girl's parents contacted police around 8pm that evening, says Johnson.
Simon Properties, which owns Fashion Square, is mum about why its security contractor did not call police.
"This incident is now a police matter and, of course, we are fully cooperating with their investigation," says Simon spokesman Les Morris in a statement released November 26, two days after the event. "Every piece of information that we have in our possession as well as witness reports have been turned over to the police for their follow-up."
"It's very bizarre to escort someone from the property and not notify police," notes Rick McCann, the CEO of Private Officer International, a security and law enforcement training association. "It's required by law because it's a felony."
McCann says he can conceive of only two scenarios under which law enforcement shouldn't be called: that a company policy forbade it or that the security guard was threatened with a weapon. More likely, he asserts, it was a bad judgment call along with a shockingly low training threshold for private security guards.
He points out that in Virginia, unarmed guards are required to garner just 24 hours of training in order to have authority to arrest someone on private property and transport a suspect to the nearest magistrate. For armed security, the level is 40 hours, and that also seems too low to McCann.
"It's troubling," he says.
"The mall is a city within a city," continues McCann. "If a suspicious person is reported, mall security is dispatched." If shoplifting or trespassing or a fight occur, that also falls into the hands of mall security. Says McCann: "That's a lot of responsibility for 24 hours of training."
The expert expresses little surprise that Simon Properties and its security contractor, Pennsylvania-based AlliedBarton, which employs more than 55,000 people, are not releasing more information.
"The bottom line is liability because they could be sued by the parents," says McCann. "They had a duty to act."
This would not be the first uncomfortable incident at the mall. Two years ago, Fashion Square officials shut it down for an hour after an alleged brawl and subsequently issued a statement pointing to public buses as the means by which youthful participants had arrived.
In the more recent case, police are reviewing surveillance video in hopes of identifying the alleged abductor, says the police spokesperson.
"If we found him, we'd release it because we want to identify the suspect," says Johnson, who declines to comment on online chatter about the man's mental health.
"We want to use this to make the public more aware and alert during the holiday season when the stores are crowded," says Johnson. "Keep your packages together, and keep your children with you."