With people’s focus drawn to the economy, they are naturally looking around for something to laugh at, and mall security is handy. But security professionals know that retail crime is not a laughing matter. It is a serious issue, but one that does seem to have a solution. Like the old real estate axiom—location, location, location—the answer here is communication, communication, communication.
The movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop from Columbia Pictures surprised everyone as the first blockbuster of 2009. But we hadn’t seen the last of mall security on the big screen. Warner Bros. Pictures scheduled its film about a mall security director, called Observe and Report, later that year.
While loss prevention professionals have long recognized the important role mall security plays, it is unusual for the general public to be fascinated by the security industry. Dennis Broe, Ph.D., a professor of film, television, and media at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York, and author of the new book about crime movies titled Film Noir, American Workers, and Postwar Hollywood (Working in the Americas), thinks the rash of entertainment focusing on mall security is a reaction to the countless police dramas on television and in the movies. “We’re so inundated with these cop shows,” Broe says. “The mall security movies are an indication that people are in a mood to see something spoofing the idea of security.”
Broe believes that the focus on mall security in the media is also an indication that the public is fed up with the idea of security. “The moment of parody means the idea is beginning to lose some of its significance,” he says. “Security is a crucial issue that has been over emphasized, so the idea of parodying it seems appropriate at this time.”
Malachy Kavanagh, a spokesperson for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), agrees that mall cops are an easy target for laughs. “Mall security is analogous to flight attendants,” he says. “They’re scoffed at as being ‘waitresses in the sky,’ but when that plane landed in the Hudson River in January, people started paying more attention to the job of flight attendants. Like mall security officers, they’re trained to provide safety and security and to take action in an emergency,” he points out.
“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 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 safety and crime reduction, which includes mall 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, points out that 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, 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 stresses. “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,” Crumrine explains. “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,” he adds.
Frank finds that when retailers don’t understand mall security’s role, problems can arise. “They expect mall security to apprehend shoplifters,” he says. “What happens next is you need to get out your checkbook.”
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,” he admits. “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 People, The Right Approach
According to Anthony Lauro, east coast properties area vice president of security and guest services for retail property developer Macerich, the company has proprietary security in its malls, which actually results in an annual savings of $5 million over engaging a contract agency. Its officers are required to receive 48 hours of proprietary training in addition to any state-mandated instruction.
Part of the training is to teach security officers that they are ambassadors for the mall 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,” Lauro reports. “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 background screening is 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,” White advises. “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,” White adds. “They’re aggressive and constantly looking for a fight to prove their virility. 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,” he stresses.
Talk Amongst Yourselves
Macerich’s Lauro says 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 says. “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.”
Macerich also equips all its tenants with a box at the cash register that receives text messages so that the mall can quickly communicate information about emergency closings, missing children, and other urgent matters on a real-time basis.
Likewise, Crumrine says that General Growth Properties gives radios to anchor stores so they can communicate with mall security about issues requiring immediate attention.
David Levenberg, now the senior vice president of the mall vertical market for Andrews International, a provider of security and risk mitigation services, spent fifteen years as head of security for GGP prior to his current position, and fifteen years in retail LP before that. From his well-rounded perspective, he sees the importance of communication between LP and mall security.
“We allow department stores or LP folks who have two-way radios to share our frequency so that mall dispatch can send someone if they need assistance,” says Levenberg. “We also have a requirement for our security directors to hold quarterly meetings with loss prevention, local police, and prosecutors.”
Alan Greggo, 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 states. “The very best defense they have is to prevent theft.”
But specialty retailers also see the benefits of interacting with mall security. “In many malls, the security leader is very open to meeting with store management and regional LP managers to discuss shoplifting trends,” Greggo says.
Such communication is crucial, but the reality sometimes differs from the ideal. Retired police officer White acknowledges his frustration, however. “The best way to interact is to have meetings between the stores, police, and all security personnel,” he says. “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,” he laments.
A security director of a contract guard agency at a mall in a major metropolitan area, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, states 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 says. “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,” she adds.
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 explains. “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.”
Klein says that mall security is often very receptive to responding to retailer requests, but some stores don’t take advantage of this assistance. “Mall security will do walk-throughs inside tenant space as a crime deterrent,” he explains. “Also, retailers can ask the mall officers to accompany them to the bank depository late at night, when few people are around.”
Robert Woerner, CPP, is a retired NYPD crime prevention unit lieutenant who currently works as a security consultant. He has been involved with retail crime for over two decades. “The presence of a uniform will deter crime,” he agrees. “Having visible security guards gives shoppers a sense of security and well being.”
Regarding the benefits of cooperation between mall security and LP, GGP’s Crumrine points out that “There are case studies showing significant apprehensions and property recovery around the country as a result of the two entities working together.”
ORC—A Meeting of the Minds
One of the biggest problems in retail crime has led to one of the most effective solutions. Organized retail crime (ORC) is such an overwhelming problem, with estimated costs to retailers in the billions of dollars annually, that it has forced mall developers, security, LP, and law enforcement to work together and forge improved relationships.
Last year the National Retail Federation (NRF) and ICSC joined forces with retail crime experts and developed a training video aimed at mall security personnel that was focused on.
ICSC’s Kavanagh points to the necessity for improved communication in the post-9/11 world. “There needs to be better collaboration between mall security and LP, and the ORC video shows that it can be done,” he says.
Levenberg says that his mall security personnel are required to view the training video, and that it has led to greater collaboration with retailers. “LP notifies us regularly about ORC groups in our malls,” he says. “This allows mall security to pass on a description of the individuals involved to other stores.
Levenberg also points to January’s week-long free cosmetics giveaway that major department stores were required to participate in as a result of a legal settlement as evidence that everyone is working together: “We took part in the nationwide conference calls with the NRF to prepare for the event,” he says. “Years ago, these communications would have been contained strictly within the retail industry. Now we’re part of NRF’s communication list.”
Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later
According to Kavanagh, everyone has a stake in avoiding another catastrophe like the trampling death of the seasonal employee at the Wal-Mart just outside New York City on Black Friday 2008. “After that tragedy, we didn’t want anyone injured,” he says. “We recognize that there needs to be enough staff and the participation of local police for events like the cosmetics giveaway.
No serious incidents were reported during the free cosmetics distribution, in part because preparation for the event began months beforehand.
Woerner has a no-nonsense approach to the bottom line. “The stores in the mall need to get buy-in from the mall ownership to have their officers help protect store assets, whether they have LP personnel or not,” he states. “This symbiotic relationship helps keep the stores fiscally viable, thus allowing them to remain tenants of the mall.”
Frank is realistic about the consequences for retailers who don’t invest in LP programs. “Many companies are shortsighted, and they don’t want to spend money on LP,” he says. “But when it comes to retail shrink, it’s either ‘pay me now or pay me later.’ And sometimes, ‘pay me later’ means bankruptcy for the store.”
Levenberg agrees that most mom-and-pops that go out of business do so because of retail shrink. “The small retailers don’t realize the impact shrink has on their bottom line. When a store closes down, it also affects the shopping mall,” he points out. “There are costs for legal actions against the retailer, a lack of income while the space is empty, plus the money the mall developer will spend to bring in the next tenant.”
When 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.
As Levenberg puts it, “We have to get rid of the ‘this is my lease-line and whatever happens inside, I won’t tell you’ attitude. It just creates a barrier to good security.”