It had been a quiet Monday afternoon at the Arcadia Police Department's satellite station at Santa Anita Fashion Park until a woman accused of shoplifting was brought in by a security guard from J.C. Penney Co.
The woman was read her rights and booked in a trailer outside the mall before she was taken to the police station for fingerprinting.
She is one of 19 suspects who have been processed in the trailer since it opened Dec. 1.
Police said the trailer operation saves patrol officers time and serves as a deterrent to crime. It is one way in which malls in the San Gabriel Valley, like those elsewhere in the county, have added security measures during the holiday season.
At the Puente Hills Mall in the City of Industry, Sheriff's Department reserves patrol the parking lot each weekend on horseback, a move that Bob Carte, general manager of the mall, said provides high visibility for law enforcement officers.
Like other shopping centers, West Covina Fashion Plaza has added extra security personnel both inside and outside the mall.
Records from police departments all over Los Angeles County show that more items are shoplifted, more purses are snatched and more packages are stolen from cars during this season than at any other time of the year.
Most mall managers interviewed would not say how many extra guards they take on during the holiday season or how much money is lost to crime. Security officials at the malls said that crowd and traffic control is the main reason for beefed-up security.
"We do not have a security problem," said Carte of the Puente Hills Mall. "Our extra security is there to handle crowds."
But Southern California, with its combination of balmy winter weather and some of the nation's busiest malls, draws criminals from throughout the country, according to Los Angeles Police Sgt. Dan Cook, who said crime generally increases about 10% during the holiday season.
"If it's any comfort, you're less likely to be killed," Cook said of the holiday season. "The holidays is our lowest time for murders. But every kind of theft goes up in December."
Last December, Cook said, robberies, burglaries and larcenies in Los Angeles increased to 12,000, from about 10,000 in November. December also is the month with the most car thefts.
To help combat that problem, the Arcadia Police Department has operated its satellite station for the past seven years at Santa Anita Fashion Park from Dec. 1 through Dec. 26. The 19 booked so far this year face charges ranging from shoplifting to bicycle and auto theft.
Santa Anita is the only mall in the San Gabriel Valley with its own satellite police station.
Two officers man the unit during mall hours, with one strolling the mall or checking the parking lot while the other handles suspects brought to the trailer by store security guards and gives information to shoppers.
So far this year, there have been more visitors than suspects, said officer Robert Williams.
"I hear you have free coloring books," said one child who happened into the trailer this week. Williams handed the boy a coloring book with an emphasis on drug and health-related subjects. About an hour later, he listened when a woman came in to complain that someone threw a soft drink all over her new Mercedes.
"It helps to be here on Saturdays because it frees the officers in the field, but when it is this quiet it seems useless," Williams said.
"But I can see the point of having us here because we are a deterrent for crime in the parking lot. It's also good community relations."
Christopher Schardt, general manager at the Santa Anita mall, said it's "comforting to know" that the trailer is nearby. "It is always manned by two officers and we also have four or five Explorer Scouts from the Police Department in the parking lots.
"We have no serious crime problems--we have had no purse snatchings this season and only minor shoplifting--but the more people there are, the more potential there is for problems."
West Covina Fashion Plaza has considered the idea of a substation, said general manager Michael Shulman, but does not think it is necessary because the Police Department is right across the street.
"The police tend to be around the mall more than in most cities because we are right across the street and the police response time is fast because they are so close," he said.
At Plaza Pasadena, two uniformed officers patrol the mall and the parking garage, said general manager Patty Maude.
"In addition we have extra security people, some in uniform and some in plainclothes," she said. "We also have a security hot line in all our stores.
"But the police in uniform act as a good visual deterrent because their presence is very well known. And it makes people feel safe to come shopping here when they see all the uniforms."
Police and security guards alike, however, maintain that such measures should not lull shoppers into a false sense of security.