New owner told safety is issue at, around area

Published 12:14 pm Friday, October 15, 2010

Seconds after a phone call confirmed his purchase of Pemberton Square, developer Andy Weiner heard about security concerns from people who work in the shopping center.

“We’ve had to start closing at 7 instead of 9,” said Debra Jones, who cuts hair at Pemberton Hair Stylists. She and co-workers spoke of instances they’ve heard of mall workers being robbed while taking out trash and loiterers who stalk employees and shoppers alike.

Jesse Jones, who wears a law enforcement belt buckle though he’s not part of a force, said he routinely drives his wife, Debra Jones, to work and walks near the salon at as a lookout of sorts.

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“They need to have more security out here,” Jones said.

Police reports of criminal activity at the mall have been few and far between, though the perception of crime in and around the stores is unshakable, Weiner said as he touted his redevelopment plans to the Joneses in the parking lot.

“I want the perception of true safety for people going to the theater on a Friday and Saturday nights,” Weiner said, adding he’s received assurances from the city that current police staffing would continue.

In September, two men were charged with shoplifting designer shirts valued at $3,375 from Dillard’s, a major anchor store not part of Thursday’s property transfer.

After complaints of groups of teen-agers rambling through the mall and around the entrance the four-screen cinema in May 2009, Pemberton Square officials banned unsupervised youths from the mall after 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Weiner said this morning that policy would continue.

Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong, who said he spoke with Weiner about security “several months ago,” believes the scarcity of reports of serious offenses is a result of extra patrols around the city’s retail outlets and bars.

“I haven’t heard of people being mugged or robbed, carjackings,” Armstrong said this morning. “That may be a perception, but I don’t think there’s very much going on out there.”

Weiner wants uniformed police officers inside the four-screen Wilcox Theaters.

Armstrong said he doesn’t plan to stage officers there at the moment but isn’t closed to the idea.

“Whether we’d entertain that, we’d have to have more discussions,” Armstrong said. “We’ll continue to spot check places like the mall, downtown, Kroger, Walmart.”

The chief encouraged store managers to hire off-duty officers to work at the mall. He said officers would be allowed to wear their uniform shirts during the details, but would have the power only to make citizens’ arrests.

“I’d encourage them to hire additional staff off-duty,” Armstrong said.

The theater reopened after its predecessor, Pemberton Cinema 4, closed in December 2006 about a week after a spate of fights and a non-fatal stabbing were reported near the entrance.