Q&A: Mall Security
Ashly Helser, special operations manager at Mall of America, talks about the facility's behavioral detection program.
Q. Why did Mall of America's security department implement a behavior detection program?
A. Because private security operates in a constantly changing threat picture, we use a lot of security technologies at the mall. And while technology is necessary, oftentimes the focus becomes reactionary rather than preventative. So we did extensive research on how to better protect the people and the property at Mall of America. We were looking for more proactive security measures and found that adding a human element to the mix and the implementation of behavioral detection would achieve that goal.
Q. What are some of the challenges to behavior detection at a large place like Mall of America?
A. We have more than 40 million guests come through our doors annually; that's more than the population of Canada, so it would be a challenge for anyone to protect a facility that large, not to mention a top tourist destination and a national icon.
Within the program is a unit of people whose sole focus is on behavioral detection and interviewing. They undergo extensive training—however, that only gives us so many eyes on the property at any one time.
To combat that challenge, we've expanded the program to other areas. Our maintenance staff, our housekeeping, and our guest service representatives all receive a little bit of training in behavior detection and work in all areas of the mall. They know their areas of the mall better than anyone else.
Q. What are your RAM officers, and how do the interviews assist them in detecting or deterring possible threats?
A. RAM stands for risk assessment and mitigation, and these are plainclothes officers who patrol the mall covertly. Anyone could pick up on something that's suspicious, but it's what you do next that's important. So that's where the security interviews come in. Officers act on that detection—that's what sets us apart. They're extensively trained in the art of security interviewing. The interviews are friendly in manner but the end goal is to figure out if a person or a situation could be harmful.
RAM officers are looking for anything that resonates out of the norm with our guests, tenants, and employees. If officers come across such behavior, they conduct an interview by approaching the person and asking simple questions.
Q. Can you share some of the success stories that have come out of the program at Mall of America?
A. While I can't go into detail on any specific case, we conduct more than 1,400 interviews each year. The majority of those turn out to be nothing, and that's fantastic. A small percentage of those end up to be something criminal in nature. That proves the program's effectiveness, and also demonstrates that behavior that is out of the norm is something a criminal will display.
A very small percentage of those are interviews that actually do become cases that go on to be further investigated. This demonstrates why we take the program so seriously.