Atlanta GA. Nov 19 2008
Part One of Three Part Series
We may not see them or even think about them but we can rest assured that they see, think, hear, and know all about us while we’re on their turf. And as territories continue to expand push across acres and blocks of area cities and towns, there are more of them than ever before.
No, I’m not referring to any type of gang or military squad, peeping tom or stalker.
Although most use many different covert methods to monitor those who have entered into their domains.
Methods that include using mini camera lenses hidden in mannequins, product display racks, ceiling tiles and more that are out in the open for everyone to see. Other methods include hidden microphones to monitor your conversations, undercover covert operatives who communicate with each other by talking into their shirtsleeves, special anti-theft protection devices monitoring your packages and merchandise at exits and other secretive methods that we can’t reveal to you.
Retail Security is fast becoming the largest growth area of the private security industry using uniformed officers to patrol shopping centers and cavernous malls looking for suspicious activity, packages and responding to calls for their assistance from shoppers, store clerks and the local police department.
On any given shift, their calls may make you feel like you were monitoring a police department’s radio frequency.
Many shoppers go about their business walking between stores and stopping for lunch or a snack at the food court and maybe taking in a movie and never think about their safety or security never mind noticing the mall security force.
But they are there and they are thinking about you and about the people who might be at the mall for something other than a causal day at the mall.
Retail crime is rapidly growing and as people continue to crowd into their favorite stores and malls, criminals and opportunists come too. Every type of crime can be found in a retail environment, Matt Stromberg, retail security expert said.
Everything from shoplifting to credit card fraud, identity theft, auto burglaries, and pick pockets to the more serious armed robberies, carjacking, rapes and an occasional shooting or murder.
This past week-end at the Tyson’s Mall in Fairfax Virginia, a disgruntled restaurant employee brought a gun in to settle the score with management personnel and was shot by police. In Columbia Missouri another restaurant employee at Panera’s Bread pulled a firearm in a confrontation with another employee and was arrested by security and police officers. A 15 year old girl was raped behind a mall in Florida and at another Florida mall several woman were kidnapped in separate incidents. Wherever people are, crime will be there also said a deputy sheriff from Florida.
Malls are really small cities within the city and every type of person in the community will at one point or another cross the threshold of those malls Stromberg said.
While most mall security departments are unarmed, they are equipped with radio communications and sometimes direct contact with their local police and can quickly call for help.
But regardless of their extent of armaments, mall security officers do more than act as the eyes and ears of their property. They are in fact often the first responder to these incidents and crimes and act more like police officers and are often faced with violence from fighting shoplifters or robbers, domestic violence situations, disgruntled employees who cause problems within the mall, loitering, gang activity and the list goes on and on.
They can get a call from a mall store asking for their assistance detaining a possible shoplifter. While most large anchor stores employ their own loss prevention agents, smaller specialty stores within the mall count on the mall security officers to respond and assist them with thefts and emergency incidents that occur in their stores. Or the radio call may send them to a shots fired call like a recent incident at a mall in Atlanta Georgia where several armed men robbed a jewelry store shooting a shopper and a security officer. Calls can also consist of helping a shopper with a dead car battery or a lock-out or directions or a lost small child. You never know what the next call might be Stromberg said, just like a police department.
While mall and shopping center security officers are visible, another army of agents are walking among you as you shop at your favorite store or mall and still others are monitoring your moves on up to 300 closed circuit television monitors.
Unlike just a few years ago when “floorwalkers” could only count on their observations as they stood next to the would be shoplifter, many retailers now have security operation centers that make a Vegas casino look like minor leagues.
Cameras positioned in every nook and cranny, some hidden, and some out in the open as they try to detour shoplifting with their presence or apprehend those who defy the cameras and anti-shoplifting devices and signage that often appear throughout the store.
Loss prevention agents as they are called have been trained to know the tricks of even the slickest and best of the professional thief.
Agents spend their time looking for ticket switches, bar code scammers, boosters with bags lined with foil to slip by the alarms, under ringing employees, thieves who prefer to wear the stolen items out and make the swap in the ladies or men’s changing rooms, door busters who fill shopping carts full or pile designer jeans, DVDs, or CDs or other merchandise in large bags, boxes or other containers and make a run for the exits, fraudulent refunders and credit card scammers and anyone who is in the store to try to take advantage of their employer.
In 2007, security agents made more than 700,000 arrests and apprehensions of dishonest customers and employees, a sharp increase to the year before.
And like their unformed counterparts, loss prevention agents are finding themselves spending more time than ever investigating non-shoplifting offenses.
They are often called upon to apprehend people who are fighting in the store or someone who is hiding under a clothing rack trying to shoot “up skirt photos,” chasing teenage arsonists who light merchandise on fire, apprehending the occasional masturbator, responding to armed subject calls and other non theft calls that seem to be more frequent with each day.
With the economy in a shambles and hundreds of thousands of people are out of work, retail security experts believe that the industry will definitely take a bigger hit from shrinkage caused mainly by shoplifting and dishonest employees.
Some stores are already seeing this increase and they have also have noticed a dual trend since mid year.
That trend includes two types of thefts among those apprehended and in some regions the two are close in numbers.
Approximately half of those caught were stealing household and food items that the shoplifter needed for survival or other necessary items and could not afford due to being unemployed. Many were indeed first time shoplifters who had recently lost their jobs, their incomes and most of what they had.
The other increase seen was among the professional thieves as more are out taking advantage of the down turn in the economics by stealing and then reselling the merchandise to those who are trying to save a few bucks.
Retail Security is for sure changing, growing, responding to a far more varied type of crime than what their original position or job description may have called for or could have imagined and only time will tell to what extent their responsibilities and scope of duties will take on.
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