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Philadelphia's City Center Macy's gets decked out for the holiday season. The fatal stabbing of a security officer at this store on Monday underscores the increased security risks the season brings. (Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Macy's, Inc)

Retail Security Officer Dies in Philadelphia Stabbing Incident

A security guard working at the Center City Macy’s in Philadelphia died and another was injured after being stabbed by a would-be shoplifter on 4 December.

A man was attempting to walk out of the store with hats that he did not pay for when he was stopped by security. After a brief clash, security let the man leave after he surrendered the merchandise.

About 15 minutes later, the man returned to the store where he confronted two security guards that a Philadelphia affiliate station of ABC described as unarmed security employees of Macy’s. Brandishing a knife, he stabbed one guard in the neck. When the other security guard tried to subdue the attacker, he was also stabbed by the assailant and sustained wounds to his arms and face. The attacker then fled the scene.

The guards were rushed to the hospital where one was pronounced dead.

Police tracked the attacker to Philadelphia commuter rail station approximately four miles from the store and took him into custody. According to a police spokesperson, Macy’s regularly employs off-duty police as extra security, but no off-duty police were working at the time of the incident.

The incident underscores both the dangerous nature of frontline security work and the need for increased retail security during the holiday season.

The primary way to mitigate the dangers security officers face daily is ensuring they are well-trained in the latest situational awareness and de-escalation techniques, which is underpinned by recent discoveries in neuroscience.

“Intentionally using—and changing—our brains enhances the ways security professionals can keep those we serve secure,” security expert Diana Concannon wrote in Security Management. “Doing so repeatedly leverages the brain’s neuroplasticity and builds new neurocircuitry that wires us to respond rather than react to the situations we face.”

There are times, however, when no amount of training will be able to prevent violent acts like the one that occurred in Philadelphia. In anticipation of such cases, it’s important for security professionals to be aware of the mental health toll that intense security situations take. Lining up strategies and resources and reinforcing them with security staff is an essential duty of security leadership.

As for increased security at retail, there are reports that retail theft is down, but incidents involving violence continue to increase. However, the 2023 decrease follows an upswing of retail theft in 2022, and the increasing prevalence of group-coordinated smash-and-grab tactics, which create frightening situations for both retail staff and customers.

The holiday season is intense for retailers, with longer hours, many more customers, and higher volumes in sales and thefts. Here is a short collection of ways retailers are approaching security this year:

  • San Diego police conduct safety meetings and increase presence in retail shopping districts.
  • Dolphin Mall in Miami employs extra security, including highly visible K-9 patrols.
  • Arapahoe County in Colorado also brings animals into the holiday security game with mounted patrols (presumably they patrol the area outside stores).
  • Beverly Hills continues to increase and fine-tune its use of drone security patrols.
  • Local police departments hit the press with tips on how people can stay personally safe and secure.
  • Grocery chain Lidl has outfitted staff with body cameras in the UK to combat shoplifting.
  • San Francisco, one of the U.S. cities where retail theft has increased, said it plans on vastly increasing police presence in shopping districts.
  • Increased cybersecurity is also necessary, Forbes reported, because cybercrime also increases during the holiday season.