Shopping mall security is not a replacement for retail loss prevention programs. Mall security and LP have supporting missions, but they’re different missions.
A diagram of the ideal exchange of information and ideas wouldn’t look like a triangle, with shopping mall security, retail loss prevention, and local police at the three points. Instead, a Venn diagram, with overlapping interactions, is a more appropriate illustration. Good communication is important among everyone who has a stake in workplace safety and crime reduction. Such individuals can include mall security guards, shoppers, property developers, loss prevention personnel, store managers, local police and prosecutors, and national and international associations.
This interaction starts with a definition of roles. Steve Crumrine, director of corporate security for General Growth Properties (GGP), a real estate investment trust that owns, develops, and operates shopping malls nationwide, pointed out that shopping mall security and retail LP each has its own mission. “The loss prevention folks are employed for protection inside the tenant space,” he says. “Mall security focuses on safety in the common areas, such as the parking lots, restrooms, and so forth. The descriptions of the two are parallel, but their responsibilities are quite different.”
Thirty-year LP veteran Rich Frank, former group manager of loss prevention and safety services for Eddie Bauer Fulfillment Services, an international outdoor clothing and accessories retailer, is adamant that everyone must be on the same page. “Mall security is not a replacement for retail loss prevention programs,” he said. “Mall security and LP have supporting missions, but they’re different missions.”
A lack of understanding of these distinct roles is where problems can occur. “Loss prevention agents, while not law enforcement officers, are protected by merchant privilege statutes in all fifty states,” said Crumrine. “They are permitted by law to stop someone on the belief that the person has stolen or is about to steal their property. But often, LP expects mall security to make a stop. They don’t understand that this can then become an illegal detention situation, with the mall assuming civil liability.”
According to Dennis Klein, former vice president of LP for an international clothing retailer, “LP often asks mall security to do things they aren’t allowed to do. Mall security is always willing to help in whatever ways they can, however, because they want to get the bad guys out of the mall.”
The Right Approach to Shopping Mall Security
Part of the training is to teach security officers that they are ambassadors for the mall or shopping center as well as crime deterrents. “Shoppers who have an interaction with security or guest services personnel stay longer at the shopping center and spend more money,” said Anthony Lauro, area vice president of security and guest services for retail property developer Macerich. “A positive interaction with security is a greeting as the shopper is entering or leaving the mall, or security officers who escort shoppers to their cars or assist them with their bags.”
Providing a safe and enjoyable shopping experience starts with bringing the right people on board, then training them properly. Careful retail pre-employment assessments are important to weed out undesirable employees. But Jack White, who is a retired officer of the Fairfax County (Virginia) Police Department and was assigned to Fair Oaks Mall for two decades, has seen some “wannabe cops” slip into the ranks.
“Anyone who gets stuck with one should terminate the person during the probationary period,” said White. “There are plenty of good applicants who will be assets to the security force by making sound decisions and staying within the parameters set by the organization.” These are the employees who are often promoted to shift supervisor and have longevity within the organization, according to his observations.
“The wannabes are out there carrying weapons when they’ve been told not to,” said White. “They’re aggressive and constantly looking for a fight. And they argue with their supervisors over everything. Plus, they’re not doing anything toward a law enforcement career; They’re just hanging around, waiting for someone to ‘discover’ them. Get rid of them.”
Talk Among Yourselves
Macerich’s Lauro said that his company strives to support its retail tenants’ success in many ways. “We partner with LP by having monthly meetings, just as we do with the local police departments,” he said. “We spearhead these meetings and invite the police or the Secret Service to discuss topics such as check and credit card fraud. We bring the bagels and coffee.”
Alan Greggo, former associate vice president of LP for Luxottica Retail, an international optical and sunglass retailer, says that LP in specialty stores must focus on prevention rather than apprehension. “Specialty store managers are concerned with running the store and are not necessarily trained to assume the risks of making apprehensions,” he said. “The best defense they have is to prevent theft.”
But specialty retailers also see the benefits of interacting with shopping mall security. “In many malls, the security leader is open to meeting with store management and regional LP managers to discuss shoplifting trends,” said Greggo.
Such communication is crucial, but the reality sometimes differs from the ideal. Retired police officer White acknowledges his frustration. “The best way to interact is to have meetings between the stores, police, and all security personnel,” he said. “But most of the time, stores don’t respond, and the police wind up sitting with the mall management personnel. The retailers are left out of the loop.”
A security director of a contract guard agency at a mall in a major metropolitan area, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stated that she constantly experiences this problem. However, she has developed a way of working around the no-show retailers. “When I hire a new mall security officer, I take him or her to each LP department and introduce the person to the LP staff. Then, in front of the LP personnel, I summarize mall security’s duties,” she said. “I say something like, ‘Now, Joe, you realize that we don’t do apprehensions, but we’ll write a report on an incident in the common areas of the mall.’ That way, the duties are reinforced for the new guard, and the LP staff is reminded of what mall security can and cannot do.”
This strategy also offers a way to interact more often with busy managers and bring them abreast of problems and situations in the mall.
Lauro points out that while it isn’t mall security’s job to apprehend suspects inside a tenant’s space, mall officers can support the LP mission without crossing boundaries. “We respond if LP calls for assistance and determine what the next step will be,” he explained. “If there’s a fight going on, we’ll phone the police immediately. Security assists the best way possible in stopping negative behavior at the mall.”
When shopping mall security and retailers cooperate and communicate, the benefits multiply for everyone. The stores reduce shrink and legal exposure, the malls keep customers coming in to spend money, and the crime rate is reduced.
To read the full article, check out “Mall Security and LP–Communication is the Watchword,” which was originally published in 2009. This post was updated February 20, 2017.