Security and Crime News
Shopping Security Set For Holidays
"Police presence and high visibility are the best tactics we have to deter criminal activity," said Jacksonville police Capt. Leonard Pullicino. "Besides, it makes the shopping public feel safer."
It's why the Jacksonville Police Department puts the Holiday Task Force in action as soon as the shoppers start to flood area stores.
Officers will begin patrolling - on foot, on bikes and in cars - the Jacksonville Mall and area shopping centers beginning at 7 a.m. Friday - the day known as the largest shopping day of the year. Plain clothes officers will also walk through stores keeping an eye out for shoplifters. The task force will operate during the times stores are open and will be in effect until Jan. 2, Pullicino said.
"Officers, who will be paid, are volunteering off-duty hours to participate in the task force," Pullicino said.
The additional police presence will be a welcome sight to some people, especially after hearing about the 20-year-old who shot up a Tacoma, Wash., mall last weekend and took four hostages.
Bruce Lanier Sr. of Chinquapin isn't afraid when he shops at the Jacksonville Mall. Most of the time he feels safe. But after hearing about the shooting in Tacoma, Lanier said, it made him stop and think. "It could put fear in you," Lanier said. "It's just the times."
Lanier said he doesn't feel quite as safe in Kinston and is willing to make the 30-minute drive to shop in Jacksonville.
He knows there are more people in the mall during the holidays and that crime can happen. He tries to pay more attention this time of year. "I do try," he said, pulling in close the bags of stuff he already purchased.
Police officers will be concentrating their efforts at the mall, New River Shopping Center, Cross Point Shopping Center, Highland Crossing Shopping Center, Western Plaza, Brynn Marr Shopping Center, Piney Green Shopping Center and New Market Square, Pullicino said.
The mall will also provide additional security. Security officers, dressed in white shirts and dark pants, will be patrolling inside and in the parking lot, said Anastasia Paszkiewicz, marketing director at the mall.
Mall customers and merchants who don't want to walk to vehicles in the dark can ask a security officer for assistance, Paszkiewicz said.
Pullicino urges people to be aware of their surroundings and to consider the following tips when shopping:
- Park in well-lit areas.
- Shop in groups.
- Conceal packages in trunks.
- Report suspicious people lurking in parking lots.
- Carry bags or purses in your hands rather than on your shoulder or back.
- Don't put purses in shopping carts.
- Cash carriers should be discreet. Don't flash money when purchasing gifts.
Drugstore, supermarket hit in robberies
Trio take cash from Longs, teens lift liquor from Safeway in Oakland
About 11:45 p.m., three masked men one armed with a gun and another with a crowbar and knife stormed into the Longs Drug Store, in a shopping center at 5100 Broadway, threatened employees and made off with several hundred dollars, police said.
About a half-dozen employees and customers were inside. The gunman covered the store security guard while the two other suspects confronted some store managers in the customer service area.
The crowbar wielder said, "This is a robbery, this isn't a joke," before demanding money from the registers and safe, police said. The gunman also brandished his pistol at some other employees, causing them to hit the floor.
The money was stuffed into a bag the unarmed suspects had, and the trio fled in a car.
The three men were described as white, in their late teens to early 20s, two of whom were between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall and 150 pounds. One witness said one of them had "pretty blue eyes." The third was said to be 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 6 inches tall with a thin build.
A store security guard who followed them confronted them and tried to make them stop, police said. One suspect responded by raising his jacket and revealing a gun in his waistband. The suspects fled with about $500 in liquor.
Store officials said they thought the same group robbed the store last week.
Police and Crime Stoppers of Oakland are offering up to
$5,000 in reward money in both robberies for information leading to the arrest of the suspects. Anyone with information can call police at 238-3326 or Crime Stoppers at 238-6946.
Ocala woman held at gunpoint by carjacker
Melissa Lagasse says staying calm helped her survive ordeal
A carjacking that began in Marion County ended in Jacksonville Wednesday.
OCALA - A 33-year-old woman who was held at gunpoint in her own car was able to live to tell her story because she stayed calm and focused on getting away.
It was a normal day for Melissa Lagasse on Tuesday. She ate soup and salad for lunch and had about 45 minutes to spare when she decided to shop at a Dollar Store for holiday decorations at a Winn-Dixie shopping center in the 4400 block of U.S. 27. But things changed dramatically when she returned to her car and drove away.
"I don't know if I heard something or saw something. . . . He was coming through the two front seats and put a gun to my head," Lagasse said at a news conference at the Sheriff's Office on Wednesday.
She struggled with the man, who had gotten into her car because she left a window rolled down. She stopped struggling for the gun when he told her that he wouldn't hurt her.
For the next 90 minutes, Lagasse drove the man, identified as Kerry Lourcey, through Ocala, down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, State Road 200 and State Road 40 toward the Ocala National Forest. They made a couple of stops - one to a Suntrust Bank, the other to buy crack cocaine. She finally convinced him to let her go at a convenience store.
Zachary Lagasse, left, holds a small sheriff's badge, with his father, Jeff Lagasse, as they listen to Melissa Lagasse talk to the media Wednesday at the Marion County Sheriff's Office about her experience with a carjacker on Tuesday.
"I told him I had a son I wanted to go home to. You know, for the holidays," Lagasse said, referring to her 7-year-old son Zachary.
That was true, but she also made up stories to both get his sympathy and to ward off a worse crime. She told him that she had been raped when she was young and had HIV - both lies.
He said he wouldn't hurt her but wanted to take nude photographs of her. She refused to go along with that, and refused to drive to an isolated area. "No dirt roads," she said. Marion County Sheriff's Office investigators worked the case and Wednesday morning, her 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander was spotted on Interstate 95 in the Jacksonville area. After a brief chase, the sports utility vehicle rolled over and Lourcey was captured. He suffered minor injuries in the crash.
Charges in Ocala are pending, but Sheriff's Office Majors Crimes Unit Maj. Chris Blair said that the man would be charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment and carjacking, among other possible charges. He is currently at the Duval County Jail.
"She's just happy we caught him," Blair said. Police were able to track him down with her help. She noticed he had another license plate that was stolen from a separate vehicle. It was that detail that led deputies to look into recent stolen car cases and put authorities in Jacksonville on alert.
This was one of two crimes at the shopping center Tuesday. A woman reported her purse being snatched from her grocery cart Tuesday night.
Lagasse, who appeared at the news conference with Zachary and her husband, Jeff, said she just wants people to learn from her story. "I know a lot of people like me who are trusting. . . . If one person locks their door tomorrow because of my story, then I'm happy. I'm just thankful that God was watching over me.
"In a way, I'm glad this happened to me because I could handle it," Lagasse said.
Mabel Perez can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 867-4106. Millard Ives contributed to this report.
Largo Mall Slaying Adds to Residents' Fears
50 Cent Movie Also Troubles Some
By Avis Thomas-Lester and Hamil R. Harris
Still, some couldn't quite shake the memory of nearby Landover Mall, the once-prosperous shopping destination that steadily lost business as crime overtook its corridors.
Some residents petitioned the mall's management to stop showing the movie "Get Rich or Die Tryin'."
So when police charged a 15-year-old youth this week in a fatal beating at the Largo mall, community leaders and residents said they felt betrayed.
"I don't like to publicly bash the Boulevard because we are still trying to raise the bar on the type of retail we have, but the developer let the community and the county down," said Arthur Turner, president of the Coalition of Central Prince George's Community Organizations.
Even before the mall opened, residents exacted pledges from the original developer that they hoped would ensure a family-friendly atmosphere: Don't bring in stores that draw loiterers. Don't bring in too many athletic shoe stores, T-shirt shops and cell phone businesses that attract a young crowd without much money to spend. Don't host movies that attract an undesirable element.
Residents were delighted by some of the new shops and restaurants -- including Borders, Circuit City, Ann Taylor Loft and a Magic Johnson movie theater complex.
Some expressed disappointment in stores that arrived later.
A week after Matthew Pickett, 21, was beaten outside Borders, the movie theater was playing "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." Pickett, a military recruit from Upper Marlboro, died of head injuries. His death has become a rallying point for some residents concerned about crime at the shopping center.
Police charged a Landover youth Tuesday with manslaughter in the case. He was held on $10,000 bond after a hearing yesterday. He is scheduled to return to court Dec. 12.
Police initially said Pickett had been attacked by 10 young men and hit with a pipe or other object as he walked from Borders to the movie theater.
Sources said yesterday that authorities are considering an alternative scenario: that Pickett suffered injuries to the back of his head as a result of falling after he was allegedly struck by the 15-year-old.
Authorities said they are awaiting the results of an autopsy.
Pickett's relatives said yesterday that they don't think he would have been involved in a fight with the teenager. They described Pickett, a teacher's aide for special education students at Rosaryville Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, as a gentle young man who enjoyed reading and writing poetry.
His uncle, Mark Pickett, said his nephew cashed two checks hours before he headed to the Boulevard and had planned to buy a coat before watching a movie. When he was found, the money was missing and he did not have a coat, Pickett said.
Relatives of the suspect bristled yesterday at the suggestion that he is a troublemaker. The relatives are not being named to protect the identity of the suspect, who was charged as a juvenile.
An aunt, one of an entourage of 12 relatives who attended his hearing yesterday, called the incident a gang fight involving several young men.
"Everybody involved in this situation should step up to the plate," the boy's mother said. "They are making my son out to be a bad person. He comes from a real churchgoing family.
"Why do they have just one child [in custody] when a number of people were involved in this?"
At the Boulevard yesterday, signs posted throughout the mall offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for Pickett's death.
Residents continued to press for changes at the mall. A group from Mitchellville and other neighborhoods sent petitions to the mall's management last week seeking to stop the showing of the movie "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," which stars rapper Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent. The movie is partly based on the life of Jackson, whose mother was killed in a drug deal.
"Take a stand, in light of the recent brutal attack and senseless murder of Matthew Pickett," Roblyn Hymes of Mitchellville and others wrote in a letter to the theater's management.
"The showing of this movie . . . perpetuates the same violent actions that happened to Matthew," the letter said.
A spokeswoman for Inland Management, which runs the mall, did not return calls yesterday. The theater's manager declined to comment and referred calls to a regional manager, who could not be reached late yesterday.
A giant billboard depicting 50 Cent holding a microphone in one hand and a gun in the other was removed from the theater after residents complained that it might draw a violent crowd.
Officers beef up security at shopping center
By Joanna Blair
Borough officers were already required to drive through the shopping center as part of regular patrols, said public safety Director Dom Costa.
While on the new patrols, which began Monday, officers will have to get out of their patrol cars, walk through the center and stop at individual businesses to assess their needs and get acquainted with shoppers, Mayor Anthony DeLuca Jr. said.
"It's a nice way for the police officers to meet and talk to the public," DeLuca said. "The purpose is to increase security in the shopping center especially during the holidays."
This is the first year for the program, he said. Borough officers will be on foot patrols at the center for about an hour each shift that coincides with when the shopping center is open.
"The program will help us be more proactive in deterring crime rather than waiting for someone to report a crime," Costa said. "Our officers want to get involved with the public; just the nature of the business prevents it at times."
The program will not cost the borough additional funds, and officers still will be available to respond to emergencies elsewhere in the community, Costa said.
DeLuca and Costa said the program could be expanded to other shopping centers in the borough.
Costa said there are several small shopping areas with four or five businesses where foot patrols would not be effective. Officers will continue to drive through those areas, he said.
The "park and walk" program would be effective in shopping areas with 10 to 15 businesses such as those in the Coal Hollow Road area, he said.
Although the number of previous requests for police assistance at any particular shopping center were not immediately available, Costa said the decision for foot patrols is not based on past statistics but on a desire to show a police presence.
"We want to see how it works in the Penn Hills Shopping Center," he said.
The center on Rodi Road was selected for the program because it is the largest centralized business district in the community, Costa said.
"We welcome the police to assist at the shopping center," said Don Martin, assistant vice president of First City Management Co., which manages the center. "Our guards cannot arrest, police can arrest." The guards can get the police there immediately in case of an emergency, he said. "Unless someone is doing something wrong, I can't see this program being anything but positive."
The management company hires Securitas Security Co. of Pittsburgh to provide foot and vehicle patrols of the shopping center, Martin said. There are 55 businesses -- mostly retail -- in the center, he said.
The Penn Hills Police Department currently has 56 full-time officers who provide 24-hour coverage of the 19.08-square-mile borough. There are 46,734 residents, according to U.S. Census figures.
Costa said plainclothes officers also will be in the shopping center during the holidays.
"There's definitely a need for the police to be present in the shopping center," said Dawn DeCarlo, a Borics Hair Salon employee and Penn Hills resident. "There's always something going on in the shopping center."
Joanna Blair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Police seeking suspect in Crossville carjacking
CROSSVILLE (WATE) - October 25, 2005 - Crossville police are looking for a man they say carjacked a 64-year-old woman at a shopping center, but he could be in the Strawberry Plains area.
Investigators say the woman pleaded for her life after Mark Alton Mayfield allegedly forced his way into her car at gunpoint.
The carjacking happened at the Highland Square Shopping Center in Crossville. Police say Mayfield threatened the woman with a gun, forcing her to drive him to Wal-Mart.
She was able to talk him into letting her go. He then took off in her 2003 black Cadillac.
The car has a Tennessee tag, CMB-012.
Police think Mayfield could have traveled to the Strawberry Plains area after the crime. He's considered armed and extremely dangerous, and possibly suicidal.
If you see him, don't get close. Call 911.
Almost 75 percent of all carjackings involve the use of a gun or other deadly weapon. So how can you protect yourself?
-You should park your car in well-lit areas that are within sight and shouting distance of others.
-Always try to park near an entrance, especially if you will be leaving it for an extended period of time.
-Always check your car's back seat and underneath the car before you get in.
-And always keep your car doors locked, day or night.
© J. R. Roberts, Security Strategies