The bustling crowds of shoppers at Landover Mall Shopping Center in Prince George's County probably never hear the excited voices of the private security guards among them speaking into their walkie-talkies.
Although it isn't obvious; a cops and robbers game is played out daily between the security guards and those shoppers who choose to steal rather than buy.
"We have a No. 1 suspect from Garfinckel's who tried to steal a shirt. The saleswoman was able to get the item back but they want to press charges," said a security dispatcher who recently got an emergency call from the store.
After a rapid description of the suspect, a handful of security men fanned out through the shopping area to find the culprit. Immediately the dispatcher was getting a response by walkie-talkie.
"We have a tall No.1 here near the fountain, but he does not have a tan bag as you described," said one security guard.
"Here is another No.1 that looks like the suspect you described walking past Woolworth's." said another security guard who indicated he would follow the suspect.
There is a suspicious No.1 getting into his car right now and I can't tell if he has a handbag." said still another security guard, who added that the suspect was leaving the shopping center parking lot.
The security chief at the mall, Lt. Charles M. Blazek, said the suspect was not caught.
The landover Mall security force usually "gets its man" according to Blazek, who said that many times the guards know shoplifters from previous encounters.
The security guards, who number approximately 14 and are among a handful of private shopping center security forces in the area, say they "have the roughest job of enforcement" since the shopping center is located near low-income area and is frequented by teen-agers.
It is a piece of cake for those security guards at White Flint Mall in Montgomery or Tysons Corner in Virginia. They just get those middle class people who drive out to those malls," said Blazek.
Blazek said the youths would pick up items in the stores and appear as though they were about to steal them and then, at the last moment, replace them and leave the store.
Finally Blazek said he decided to end the chase. He and his men cornered the youths and persuaded them to leave the mall.
"We have most of our shoplifting problems with teen-agers," said Blazek, who added that his men average "an arrest a day" except during the Christmas Season when the average is even higher.
The work of security guards at the mall is not easy, Blazek said. He recalled an incident back in December 1975 when he and other security guards arrested a suspected rapist who was armed at the time and was later sentenced to life imprisonment.
"You just don't known who you are arresting," said Blazek, who is one of only four men on his force who carry revolvers.
According to the security chief, there is a need for revolvers since not all crimes in the mall are petty thefts.
"I remember one time when a man, woman and their child were taking items out of stores in plastic bags. They had more than $2,000 in merchandise in the car when we finally arrested them." said Blazek.
The security chief also cited an instance where one man had stolen more than $1,000 in expensive suits from "only the best" clothing stores in the mall.
Other malls in the area, such as White Flint and Tysons Corner, do not face the constant shoplifting problems that Landover Mall security guards face.
"We average about two shoplifting arrests a week," said John T. Hurley, director of security at Tysons Corner.
Hurley, however, points to other considerations that make security at Tysons Corner and other suburban malls particularly difficult.
"I think tysons Corner appeals to shoppers who have higher incomes, but we still have problems. What do you do when you arrest somebody making $50,000 a year on shoplifting charges?" asked Hurley.
At newly opened White Flint Mall, where only half of the planned stores are open, security guard Kevin P. Meile said the security force of 15 guards has already run into problems with juveniles.
Meile, who said he worked at Landover Mall before coming to White Flint Mall, explained the difference in security at both malls. "Over there most people come from Seat Plleasant and the District," Meile said. "Here, most of the people are upper class."