What mall security can learn from 'Paul Blart Mall Cop' movie

New slapstick movie gets into a few underlying issues of retail security services

In the movie, Blart finds himself in a tense situation in which he must take action. "Think! Think!" he encourages himself, and asks aloud what he's trained to do in these circumstances. "Nothing!" he moans, and flashes back to the sign over the door in the security office that reminds the guards to "Detect, Deter, Observe, Report."

A security director for a large national retailer who has participated in ongoing discussions with mall security chiefs offered his thoughts but asked to remain anonymous.

"Mall security are mainly concerned with public safety, meaning traffic in the lot, slips and falls, and mitigating violent activity by customers," the retail security director reported. "When it comes to the prevention of shoplifting and apprehending shoplifters, they want the retailer to bear that responsibility."

Unfortunately, this security director says mall security can sometimes be overeager.

"My experience has been, too often, that when the mall guards are called about a potential shoplifter, they stop people in the mall corridors and search them," the security director said. "If I am hearing the mall security leaders correctly, their officers should not stop potential shoplifters whom they did not see steal and when they have no idea where the goods are concealed. They instruct their security personnel to respond once the detention has occurred by the retailer, and then only to keep the peace until law enforcement arrives. I want them to follow their own policies," the retailer adds. "I want my store associates to alert mall security so they let other retailers know there is a potential risk. If a big department store with floorwalkers catches the shoplifters, then the system has worked the way it is supposed to."

The Real World Meets the Shopping Mall

According to Woerner, just having mall security guards around can be helpful to stores. "The presence of a uniform - a warm body - will to some degree deter crime," he says. "It should give shoppers a sense of security and well being. They won't necessarily look at the presence of guards as a bad thing, e.g., that the mall is a high crime location," he quickly pointed out. But, he adds, "In high crime areas, having a sworn police officer assigned to a mall would be a help."

Our anonymous retail security director agreed with Woerner, but even went a bit further.

"In light of increasing violence in shopping malls, having an armed and properly trained police presence in the mall is necessary nowadays," the security chief says. "I wouldn't want armed security. Police officers and police sub-stations in the mall are great, especially in tough, inner-city malls. We have had some of our best theft apprehensions in those malls because the police are there and take care of it immediately. I'd also like to see bomb and narcotic trained dogs with police officers in malls," the retail security director added. "That sounds kind of hard core, but times are changing."

Woerner says that the best way to ensure cooperation between stores and mall security is to recognize that retail is, at its core, a people business. Consider the human factor, he advises: "Treat mall security guards as people, and have them understand your needs."

In the end, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" offers a way to open a dialog between mall security and retailers about how to best work together. And because repetition paves the way for the best learning experiences, get set for another mall cop movie. "Observe and Report," which debuts in March at the SXSW Film Fest; it's a dark comedy starring Seth Rogen as "a deluded, self-important head of mall security who squares off in a turf war against the local cops." Stay tuned.

A 6-Point Prescription for Mall Security

The security director of a nationwide retail chain also offered the company's formula for successful mall security operations when interacting with stores and store loss prevention (LP) operations:

1) Respond for a walk-through when called by associates of a store. This will establish a uniformed deterrent presence when a suspected individual or a group is present. DO NOT apprehend.

2) Respond when a shoplifting has occurred ONLY to take note of what was stolen and what the shoplifter looks like so other stores can be alerted or the bad guys can be tracked to other stores.