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Tools of the Trade Assist Security Officers

In retail shopping environments, security comes largely from people protecting people. More and more, however, security tools back up security people.

The Mills Corp. of Arlington, Va., for example, owns and operates eight major shopping malls around the country, with three more centers expected to open over the next 12 months.

Mills' malls average 1.7 million sq. ft. of GLA and attract between 18 million and 25 million customers per year.

Thomas Ackley, Mills' corporate director of security, works out of offices in the Gurnee Mills in Gurnee, Ill. From his vantage point close to the front lines of mall operations, Ackley oversees the work of security directors and their staffs at each of the company's malls.

"Our security goal is to provide a safe, enjoyable environment for people to shop," Ackley says.

To achieve that goal, each Mills center employs 35 to 60 security officers working shifts around the clock. In addition, each mall houses a police substation staffed by 15 to 20 police officers.

"The police officers work strictly on law enforcement problems related to the malls," Ackley says. "Their duties are to patrol the center and to handle criminal situations and traffic accidents. The only exception is at our mall in Concord, N.C., which houses a 24-hour precinct station. Most of the officers there are assigned to the mall, but the facility also serves as a precinct station for the surrounding neighborhoods."

Several security technologies facilitate the work of the security officers and police at Mills malls, from closed-circuit television (CCTV) to specialized vehicles to communications and guard tour systems.

CCTV monitoring According to Ackley, a typical Mills mall uses a CCTV system with 60 to 80 cameras positioned outside and inside the mall. Camera suppliers include Panasonic, Sony, and Vicon Industries Inc. Most provide color video signals from pan-tilt-zoom mounts.

Cameras mounted on the exterior of the building watch the ring roads circling the malls, the parking lots and the entrances.

Exterior camera placements enable officers monitoring the system to distinguish details as small as vehicle license plates.

Inside the centers, cameras monitor main and out-of-the-way corridors and the food courts.

Video from the cameras travels by cable to one of two Security Dispatch Centers located in each mall. Vicon supplies much of the monitoring equipment for Mills' malls, including the switchers, multiplexers, video cassette recorders and monitors.

Cameras cover most of the common areas inside the malls and out. Still, primary security coverage comes from patrolling officers. Inside the mall, officers patrol on foot. Outside, officers patrol on foot and in marked sport utility vehicles. At some facilities, officers also use bicycles and golf carts.

Communications throughout the center Patrolling officers provide services to customers such as information, while watching for problems such as lost items, vandalism, trip-and-fall hazards and suspicious activities.

Two-way radios provide communications between patrolling officers and the security dispatch centers, which have phone links to the police substations.

Another communications system enables the dispatch centers to alert retailers to potential problems. "This system is called City Watch," Ackley says.

"Suppose a retailer tells us that someone passed counterfeit money in a store. We can use the City Watch computer terminal to type in a message to that effect and send it out to City Watch terminals located in each store in the mall. It's a great system for lost kids, weather emergencies, and other kinds of information that we want to broadcast around the mall."

The guard tour system Each Mills mall employs a guard tour system called TouchProbe, supplied by Videx of Corvallis, Ore. According to Ackley, the Videx system helps supervise security patrols, provides information to the police investigating a crime, and helps to manage insurance liability.

The Videx system consists of small dime-sized sensors, touring wands carried by officers, a docking device that downloads information from the sensors into the security department's computers, and reporting software.

"We place sensors at all of our exterior doors and throughout the common areas," Ackley explains. "We also place sensors inside every fire extinguisher cabinet, in each of our sprinkler rooms and electrical rooms, inside each of the rest rooms, in the service corridors, at roof access points that must remain locked, at ATMs, and at mall information booths."

Sensors install easily by way of a peel-and-stick adhesive backing. "Each sensor has an address consisting of 11 numbers that we enter into the computer and link to its location in the mall," Ackley says.

The numerical identifier encoded into the sensors represents an improvement over older systems that relied on visible bar-codes affixed at patrol locations. According to a Videx spokesperson, by duplicating the bar-codes, an irresponsible security officer could sit in an office and scan the right bar-codes at the right time. The only way to defeat the Videx system would be to remove all of the sensors from the walls, in the right touring order, scan them in the right order at appropriately timed sequences, and then replace them, once again in the right order.

Each Mills mall has 10 to 15 wands, or as many as needed to accommodate each shift. When officers arrive for their shifts, their first task is to scan button-sensors carried on their keychains. This procedure signs officers into the system for the shift.

Out on patrol, officers must scan each sensor on their tour with the TouchProbe wands. Placement of sensors encourages complete coverage. For example, affixing sensors inside fire extinguisher cabinets requires officers to open the cabinets and at least look at the fire extinguishers to get to the sensors. By placing sensors in the bathrooms at the far side of the space, officers must cover the entire area to get to the sensors.

Officers can also use the TouchProbe wands to record notes. Videx has supplied a series of three-by-five cards with lists of one-line messages next to sensors that will record those messages. For example, if an officer finds a wall with graffiti, he or she scans the nearest wall sensor and then scans the sensor next to an appropriate message on a card.

At the end of a shift, each officer inserts the wand into a downloading station provided with the system. The station transfers the data in ASCII format to a file in the system, which might be on a PC or a network server. Each Mills mall downloads tour information onto a PC located in one of the Security Dispatch Offices.

Following the download, reporting software takes over. While Videx provides a proprietary reporting software, Mills uses a more general software provided by the Waetjen Company of Meadowbrook, Pa., which installs and configures all of the Mills guard tour systems. "We've developed a macro program that uses MicroSoft Access to organize reports," says Ed Waetjen, the company's principal. "Access is simple to learn. In fact, many people already know it from other applications. We provide the reporting system on a CD when we install a system."

Shift supervisors can use the MicroSoft Access macro to produce a variety of reports. If the security manager wants to check on an officer, he could request a report on when that officer scanned each sensor on an assigned route. Reports might organize data related to an incident, providing information about where officers were when a fight broke out at the main entrance.

"Normally, you would print out exceptions," Waetjen says. For example, an officer might have found an unlocked access door to the roof and scanned a note to that effect into the system. An exception report would deliver that information to the shift supervisor, who could investigate.

"We also use reports during insurance audits of security," says Ackley. "Periodically, our insurance company inspects our facilities and wants to see records on how often we patrol back hallways, sprinkler rooms and so on. Reports showing that we are doing our job well may even affect our insurance rates for the better."

So in the end, technology not only helps Ackley's people provide better security, it may also contribute to cost control.

* 40% of security lawsuits against retail and mall owners were filed because of parking lot crimes.

* One out of three security lawsuits has resulted in a judgment against the owner.

* The average security settlement is $1.2 million.

Source: Parking Today, September 1998

Security officers joining the staff at one of the Mills Corp.'s eight major malls receive 80 hours of training, which includes classroom study, videotapes, written examinations and on-the-job training with an experienced field officer. According to Thomas Ackley, the company's corporate director of security, the training program covers six areas:

* report writing;

* emergency response;

* basic patrol operations;

* retail theft;

* juveniles; and

* legal and crime scene responsibilities.

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