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Mall Shooting Spree Raises Security Questions

In perhaps the deadliest incident ever at a U.S. mall, six people were killed Monday at Trolley Square, a 239,000-square-foot mall in Salt Lake City owned and managed by real estate investment firm ScanlanKemperBard (SKB) Companies.

Sulejmen Talovic, 18, entered the mall with a .38 caliber pistol, a shotgun, a backpack full of ammunition and a bandoleer of shotgun shells. He walked through the center firing randomly and killed five and wounded four before being fatally shot by police. The incident could have been a lot worse if off-duty police officer Kenneth Hammond had not been at the property. Armed with a .45-caliber handgun, Hammond exchanged fire with Talovic and held him at bay until the local SWAT team arrived. Talovic was killed in the ensuing gunfight.

Mall security, however, seems to not have played a role in stopping the shooting. According to a report from local television station KSL-5, a witness said, "I heard the gun shot, and then I saw the security guards run off, and then I heard a couple more shots."

Michele H. Frank, senior vice president for acquisitions and dispositions at SKB confirms that there were security guards on duty during yesterday’s rampage, but she declined to disclose how many were on site or the name of the security firm SKB has a contract with for guards.

But if it’s like most of the industry, security guards at the mall were probably under-paid, under-trained and ill-equipped to deal with the incident.

“Some shopping centers will just hire two guard service people to patrol the property and don’t really give them any direction; they just tell them to wander around the area,” says Chris McGoey, founder of Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting and publisher of “That’s not really effective–they will just be responding to incidents, not preventing any serious issues.”

A recent report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, “An Assessment of the Preparedness of Large Retail Malls to Prevent and Respond to Terrorist Attacks”, shows that filling mall security guard positions remains a low priority. A survey of 120 mall security directors indicates that 60.2 percent said that training for security staff at their center has not improved since 9/11 and another 94 percent said that there was no change in hiring requirements for security officers.

Security guards typically earn between $8.50 and $14 an hour, McGoey says. “Plus, security officers get a lot of verbal abuse, some people can’t stand on their feet all day long and some aren’t comfortable with confrontation,” McGoey says.

The Department of Justice report found that less than one in 10 centers had any age requirements for the job. A little more than 4 percent of respondents require that applicants be at least 18 years of age; 3.6 percent request that applicants be 21. In addition, less than 47.1 percent of those surveyed required a high school diploma or a higher level of education, and even fewer (12.7 percent) required previous experience in security, military service or law enforcement.

“We would all like to have the best qualified people for the job, but the pay scale that exists does not allow us to hire the best people and there is a limited group of [candidates] who can do this job,” says Jonathan Lusher principal consultant and executive vice president with IPC International Corp., a Bannockburn, Ill.-based security firm Lusher.

Officials at IPC say they are reluctant to hire former law enforcement professionals because they are used to apprehending suspects, instead of observing them, says Lusher. “We don’t want them to have bad habits from other security jobs,” he notes.

Malls have seen a rash of high-profile incidents lately. Two young men have been arrested and charged for a fatal shooting that occurred at the Boynton Beach Mall in Florida on Christmas Eve. The alleged gunman, witnesses said, fired at least six bullets before they cornered and arrested him in the women's department of Dillard's. The second man has been charged as an accessory after the fact and resisting an officer without violence. The mall was evacuated and closed. It reopened the day after Christmas.

Two weeks earlier, on Dec. 8, 22-year-old Derrick Shareef was arrested and charged in an alleged plot to set off hand grenades at Cherryvale Mall in Rockford, Ill. An agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigations said the man told police about his desire to wage jihad against civilians and chose Dec. 22 as a target date because it would provide “the highest concentration of shoppers that he could kill and injure.” Shareef was arrested when he met with an undercover agent in a parking lot to trade a set of stereo speakers for four hand grenades and a handgun.

And on December 13, a suicidal teen in Altamonte, Fla. plowed his vehicle through exterior planters and into the second floor entrance of Altamonte Mall. The incident, which was captured on videotape showed the car that entered on the upper level coming to rest on the floor below.

SKB, which acquired Trolley Square in August 2006 from Simon Property Group Inc., re-opened the center Wednesday morning.

-- Riccardo A. Davis & Elaine Misonzhnik
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