Before this gets out of hand, let's make one thing clear: Citadel Mall is not a dangerous place.

On Christmas Eve, a shopper was mugged in a mall bathroom by a guy who apparently does not regularly visit the dentist. Bad teeth pulled a gun, took the man's money and vanished into the holiday crowd.

Police are still looking for him.

That's the kind of thing that can give a place a bad rap, especially a place everyone knows and goes to shop. The media fleshed out the story by mentioning that someone was assaulted in the parking lot there a few months earlier, and next thing you know some people think Citadel Mall is the set of “Death Wish.”

“It stands out in people's minds,” says Charleston police Capt. Brian Ambrose. “But it's very unfair. Citadel Mall is generally a safe place to go.”

Low crime rate

About 8 million people visit Citadel Mall every year, more or less.

When you have the population of New York City running through a few dozen acres in a year and can count the number of violent crimes on one hand, that's barely a statistical blip.

That is not to downplay the seriousness of that attack — it was pretty scary, and the police and the mall take it seriously.

But it's not an epidemic.

Ambrose, commander for the Charleston Police Department's Western Patrol Division, says he's never seen anything like the Christmas Eve attack in his 15 years on the force.

Usually, he says, police calls to the mall involve shoplifting, petty larceny — the kind of thing you'd expect around stores where kids hang out. And fact is, the mall has a security force that is partly made up of off-duty police officers.

So it's not just mall cops.

“For the number of people and vehicles going through there, it's safe,” Ambrose says.

Now, police will tell you all the obvious safety tips — lock your car, don't leave valuables in sight, lock your bags in the trunk, and always watch your surroundings. Good advice.

But that's true of any place.

Rest of the story

A lot of times, the details of these stories coming out of the mall get lost in translation.

For instance, that assault in the parking lot back in the fall? That wasn't a case of some random shopper getting jumped on her way to the car.

Those people knew each other. It could have happened anywhere, it just so happened to go down in the mall parking lot.

And now and then, you hear about store employees being robbed in the parking lot after hours. Well, occasionally that's not what it appears to be. Mall and police officials say a couple of those stories have turned out to be false reports; the employees were actually just ripping off their own stores.

Bottom line, the Christmas Eve attack at Citadel Mall was a serious, violent crime — and an isolated incident.

It doesn't mean that if you go to Target, you're going to be a target.

Reach Brian Hicks at or read his blog at