To Observe and Report
As security manager for Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento, Steve Reed oversees 77 acres, 165 stores and 10 million visitors per year. When he arrived in 2000 after 19 years as a Sacramento police officer, the site had 19 VHS-based cameras and a fairly high rate of crime. “It was easy pickings in those days,” he says.
He’s since installed some of the latest technology — including Avigilon high-definition cameras and License Plate Readers (LPR) — and some common sense policies. The result has been a significant decrease in crime there, including a 90 percent drop in stolen vehicles) — from 77 in 2006 to 7 in 2011.
Reed recently spoke with STORES contributor Sandy Smith.
What were things like at Arden Fair in 2000?
We had a large number of auto thefts, many vehicle crimes, and really a poor perception issue here. People would shy away from the mall because there was a high incidence of crime.
Can you provide a brief overview of security challenges you faced?
We have access to a freeway, which obviously anytime you have a mall ... or a retail setting, it’s going to afford the capability for easy exit and transition into [the] property, and into the Bay Area and other surrounding areas.
To the west, there’s a fairly high crime area. If you go to the north, it’s a residential neighborhood with people who have lived there for many years, a lot of seniors. To the southeast, you have a fairly affluent area, very high-target shoppers, people who will spend money in the businesses here. Then we have a light rail system which comes from some of the areas that are challenging, as far as law enforcement goes. It brings people into the area.
You recently installed a new scanning device on a couple of security vehicles that can wirelessly access the Department of Justice database of 220,000 stolen license plates. What have you found while using this?
Because of the partnership with Sacramento’s Police Department, we were allowed to hook up to the DOJ database. Whenever we drive up and down the aisles, we get hits on our LPRs if a car is stolen. In three years, we’ve recovered 67 stolen vehicles, and in that time there have been 51 arrests out of those stolen vehicles. Of those 51 people we’ve arrested, probably 80 percent are involved in other crimes, such as identity ... or petty thefts.
During those arrests our officers “observed and reported” and directed law enforcement to the suspects. The first arrest was an individual who arrived in a stolen vehicle. When they patted him down they found shoes that he had stolen. Another person we arrested ... was at Kinko’s... When law enforcement arrested him, he was making altered drivers’ licenses and credit cards.
You also upgraded from a VHS-based surveillance system to high-definition cameras and a DVR-based system. Have you seen any direct successes from having access to more, better quality surveillance footage?
Absolutely. In the early days, when we had the regular digital cameras and the VHS, it was extremely inefficient. When you brought the view in close, the image pixilated. Now we’ve gone exclusively to the Avigilon cameras [and] can take a portrait picture. You just zoom in on a specific area and you don’t lose the integrity of the picture.
We have two-, five-, eight-megapixel cameras in the mall; at our intersections and entrances we have 16-megapixel HD cameras. In our parking lots where we have to go deep, we have 29 megapixels. Right now we’re at 167 cameras and getting ready to add 17 more. [In early 2013] we’re putting in an additional 50.
Let’s talk about some of the specific challenges related to the holiday shopping season and how you handle them at Arden Fair, starting with the biggest: Black Friday.
We have a midnight opening on Black Friday. I doubled my law enforcement staff. I had off-duty police here, many inside and outside patrolling the area. It’s not just because they’re going to prevent crime. It gives the public a sense of security when they come to the mall and see there are a lot of law enforcement ... on the property and they’re interacting with the public. The first hour, we had 8,200 people at the doors to get in the mall.
Last year, I didn’t do it the way I did it this year. Last year, we just opened the doors and it was a crush of people, very precarious. This year, I bought barricades and we created funnels. The flow made it easier to control the crowds.
Any other major events that present security issues during the holiday season?
The last weekend before Christmas is the next one. We have major crowds. The No. 1 challenge: school gets out. You have young people that may ... want to create problems. I put a policy in place three years ago that you’re not allowed to wear a hood or pants well below the waistline inside our mall. We do it across the board.
About four years ago, I had a person come in the mall wearing a hoodie. He went down to a kiosk and told the employee he had a gun and robbed her of $200. I couldn’t get [an image] of his face. If they can’t comply with a dress code, they aren’t going to comply with a lot of other rules. The dress code policy has made a positive impact on our mall not only in the area of safety but also the perception issue.
With so many people coming into the mall, how do you handle other challenges, like separated children?
I go around to different security companies, see what I can adapt from them. We’re not in the business to make money, but to keep people safe. I was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium recently. If you’ve been to an aquarium, it’s dark in a lot of areas. Kids get lost and they don’t know how to get a hold of their parents, [so] they give out wristbands and put it on the child.
I took that idea, came back here and made up wristbands that say “Arden Fair Mall” in neon green. We handed them out to kids on Black Friday [and] put the cell phone number of the parent on the inside. My guys know if a kid gets lost, just cut [the wristband] off and call the parent.
This holiday shopping season was marred by the shooting at the mall in Portland, Ore., in which two shoppers were killed. What sort of protocols do you have in place for events like that?
I have to educate everyone who works here what to do if there is an active shooter. I have the FEMA active shooter program that’s online. I send it to each of my retail stores.
Obviously, if some lone wolf comes in here and tries to do something, there will be little that we can do. What we can do is prepare the public and the retailers. That will minimize the damage that will happen. We also use a SWAT team and practice active shooter [scenarios] with Sacramento police. We work with Homeland Security with surveillance classes and what to look for.
Not only does it educate our people, but the first responders get a familiarity with the mall so if they have to come here, they know where to go. I send maps of our stores to Sacramento police every quarter. On our rooftops, we’re going to start painting letters where different stores are so air support will know where to go. We have a crisis management plan in place which we share regularly with law enforcement.
What sort of issues do you see on the horizon for mall security?
The biggest challenge that I see ... is security people rely on law enforcement to do their job. The way the economy is going with resources in cities, owners of the mall and other properties have to invest. You can’t just rely on law enforcement. You have to invest in your camera systems [and] supplement with an off-duty policing program. You have to think outside the box, like wristbands and dress codes. They all, in totality, affect your property and the safety of it.
I don’t hire ... people who want to be cops and want to be cowboys. I go around to the retailers, and if I see someone who is really good, I’ll recruit them. They know how to deal with people. I can teach them security. People that are overzealous about security, I don’t want them. I want people who have good people skills. Security’s job is to observe and report and excel at customer service.