News 3 investigates Hampton Roads’ most dangerous shopping centers

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Hundreds of shopping centers dot major roadways and quiet nooks of Hampton Roads. They are convenient for shoppers, but police reports show they are a haven for criminals.

News 3 requested police reports for all crimes committed at Hampton Roads shopping centers between March 21, 2017 and Mach 21, 2018. The most common offense Hampton Roads shopping centers were larcenies from stores, but the data also showed that hundreds of offenses were crimes against shoppers.

Mary Cole became a part of the statistics around the holiday season when criminals stole her shopping cart full of items she had just purchased.

"I definitely felt exposed after it all happened, Cole explained. "I felt very vulnerable; I wouldn't want my worst enemy to have gone through that."

Cole was not injured in the theft, but says her experience made a lasting impression.

"It makes me feel that the daytime would be the best time to shop," Cole said. "I need to be more alert and aware of my surroundings."

Her warnings are echoed by Norfolk Police Officer Roger Whitley.

"If you aren't aware of your surroundings, you are really opening yourself up to being a victim," Officer Whitley explained. "It really doesn't take any time. That is what criminals want to do. They want to make sure people aren't looking. They want to get in and get out."

To keep yourself from becoming a target, police say being aware of your surroundings can make all the difference.

"Make sure you slow yourself down. I know we are in a really fast paced society - a lot of distractions - but really slow yourself down and make sure you are doing certain things."

Locking your doors, hiding items like purses and backpacks in your trunk and taking the time to know who and what is around you at all times are just a few of the Officer Whitley's suggestions. Other ways to protect yourself include parking near the store you are shopping at and getting security to escort you to your car afterwards.

Officer Whitley also suggests putting down your phone and not wearing headphones.

"When they [criminals] see someone who isn't paying attention, they are going to move pretty quick to get there to take something from you, or to commit a crime against you," said Officer Whitley.

But which shopping centers had the most crime? Click here to see a rundown of how many crimes were committed at your neighborhood shopping center and others in the area.