State troopers boost holiday security at malls

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:53

    Bargain hunters with long lists of gifts to purchase and Santas entertaining lines of children are some of the familiar sights at malls in New Jersey during holiday season. Armed, uniformed state troopers also are becoming a conspicuous presence. Last week, the Homeland Security Branch of the state police began dispatching teams of uniformed troopers to shopping malls. Their mission: deter terrorism, raise public awareness of the need to be vigilant and build relationships with local law enforcement agencies. ``During this time of year these malls would become a greater temptation or a greater potential target simply because of the number of people that would gather there,'' said Trooper Steve Jones, a state police spokesman. ``We have these troopers in uniform as a very visible show of our presence.'' The uniformed troopers are assigned to malls for a few hours at a time to send a deterrent message, complementing the more regular presence of plainclothes detectives, Jones said. The program is not in response to any specific threat of terror attack, Jones said. Rather it is an expansion of a two-year-old program by the homeland branch that has stationed troopers at train stations, ferry terminals and other transportation hubs. On Thursday, troopers were at the Paramus Park and Garden State Plaza malls in Paramus, Bergen County's shopping mecca. Capt. David Gregor of the homeland branch said troopers were sensitive to the image-consciousness of mall managers and the possibility that some managers or merchants might be apprehensive about such a conspicuous presence during the time of year retailers count on for much of their annual profit. But, Gregor said, ``I've got nothing but positive comments from the vendors in the stores, as well as the general public.'' ``Of course, there's been some concern among people who come up to us as to why we're there,'' Gregor said. But after troopers explain their reason for being at the mall, ``people leave smiling and say they're glad to have us,'' he said. For security reasons, Gregor declined to say what other malls troopers would visit or when. Melissa Eigen, marketing director at Garden State Plaza, confirmed that troopers had been at the mall, but she declined to characterize the reaction of mall management, merchants or shoppers to them. Like the state police, the mall also wanted shoppers to be safe, Eigen said. ``The safety and security of our customers is the utmost important thing to us during the holiday season,'' she said.