One more merchant worry: Mall violence

For the first time, industry groups will meet with mall operators and retailers to discuss recent shooting sprees.

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By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com senior writer

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Retail trade groups, mall operators and retailers will meet next month in a first-ever conference on the impact of mall violence on business and community.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Typically shoplifters, fraudsters and scammers pose the biggest threat to merchants' bottom line.

But a much more dangerous type of crime - mall shootings - has the retail industry on edge.

Earlier this month, five people were fatally wounded in a strip mall shooting in Illinois.

In December, a shooting at an Omaha mall - which was at least the fourth at a mall or a shopping center last year - resulted in the deaths of eight shoppers .

"There's been an increase of these incidents in the past months, and it's raised concern in the industry," said Joe LaRocca, vice president with the National Retail Federation (NRF), the industry's largest trade group.

Recognizing the enormous media attention and the potential for a negative fallout to retailers from such incidents, the NRF in January established a working group with the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) to address how to combat active shooters in stores.

"'Every shooting has an impact on people, the community and on business," LaRocca said.

Although the NRF doesn't yet have an estimate on the cost of random acts of violence to retailers' business, LaRocca said other retail crimes such as theft, fraud and scams currently cost retailers over $40 billion in lost sales.

However, other industry experts say a recurrence of mall shootings - especially in an economic downturn - will only push up overall costs for retailers, and consumers are likely to pay more as well.

LaRocca said both trade groups will host a first-ever conference focused specifically on mall violence. The conference, which includes mall operators and individual retailers, will be held in New Orleans in late March.

He said there will be plenty of discussion about training employees on how best to protect themselves and customers in a shooting or hostage situation.

And all security options are on the table for discussion, including adding metal detectors at shopping centers.

"Metal detectors are used in schools and they can be very effective in preventing shootings," LaRocca said.

Economy partly to blame?

One security expert says he's noticed an increase in public crimes when the economy is in a downturn, although NRF's LaRocca said his group has shied away from linking violent mall crimes to the state of the economy.

Rising unemployment in a recessionary environment facilitates all types of crime such as robberies and burglaries and drug use among young people, said Chris McGoey, an independent security consultant who specializes in crime prevention.

At the same time, big retail chains are now trimming their staff to contain costs.

"Less sales staff on the floor means store theft will increase and customer safety becomes an issue both in the store and the parking lots," McGoey said.

For malls, this is a double whammy, especially when shopping centers are already experiencing softness in traffic. "For one thing, retailers will lose sales if people become fearful about shopping at a particular mall," said McGoey.

Mall operators also want to avoid expensive lawsuits that can result from shootings at their locations, he said.

"Right now retailers are focused more on growing sales and they're basing their budgets on that," he said. "They need to invest more in security too, because it's just as important to make a customer feel safe in your store." To top of page

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.