The stabbing death of a teenager at the Block at Orange on Saturday has prompted police to review staffing levels and procedures at the busy entertainment mall as it prepares for the holiday season.
The death of an 18-year-old Santa Ana man, who Orange police say had gang ties, was the first killing at the Block since it opened two years ago.
The slaying coincides with a spike this year in assault and battery cases at the trendy spot. Last year, 31 scuffles were reported to police. That number rose to 50 during the first nine months of this year and will reach 67 if the current crime rate holds steady.
No suspects have been arrested in the fatal attack this weekend, which left two other men with serious stab wounds.
Though police say the attack was not connected to any ongoing gang problems at the mall, they plan to meet with mall officials to determine if the death could have been prevented.
They also want to review whether police staffing should be bolstered from the current roster of from six to eight officers. A mall security team also patrols the 811,000-square-foot center, the largest in the city.
"We have about 16 million people that go to the Block each year. When you have that many people coming together, we're going to expect problems," said Capt. Art Romo. "It's expected to be a safe place to visit, and we want to do everything we can to make it a safe place."
Police said shoplifting and other property-related offenses have constituted most of the crimes reported at the mall since it opened in November 1998. The mall reported 429 thefts--including shoplifting--and 40 stolen cars during 1999, with another 322 thefts and 40 stolen vehicles in the first nine months of 2000, according to police incident reports. The number of reported rapes has risen from none last year to two during the same nine months of this year.
Romo said he is not sure what caused the dramatic rise in assaults, but added that most were minor. Gangs, he said, have not been a problem at the mall. The only other violent crimes reported at the Block were employee-related, resulting in minor stab wounds.
Despite the increase in assaults, Romo said, the Block's crime figures remain low given the number of patrons.
"Although we're not happy with any crime that occurs, we think that these numbers are lower than we anticipated," Romo said. "Violent crime reported at the block is very low."
The incident Saturday night occurred in a parking lot behind the movie theaters. Police said few patrons were near--it is one of the most remote areas at the mall-- and only a few witnesses have come forward.
The men were apparently stabbed after a confrontation with another group of Asian American youths, all of whom had fled by the time police arrived. The Santa Ana man, Huang Thai Ly, died at the scene. The two other victims--an Aliso Viejo teenager and a 26-year-old Santa Ana man--were taken to area hospitals where police said they are recovering.
Investigators are focusing on videotapes from mall security cameras and interviewing witnesses. They are also questioning acquaintances of the victims in the hopes of determining a motive for the attack.
Authorities also still do not know if the attackers were gang members. Police in Orange and neighboring cities said violent crime among Asian American gangs has not been increasing. The last major incident occurred last month when an Irvine teenager died after a shootout with rival gang members in Fullerton.
About 40,000 people had visited the mall, typical attendance for a Saturday, and officials said the theater had drawn about 12,000 people, one of its best days ever.
Officials would not disclose the size of the mall's security force, but said it was adequate for "any situation that comes up."
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Orange Police Department is reviewing whether they have enough officers covering the Block, following the stabbing death of an 18-year-old man in the mall's parking lot on Saturday.