Expert Q&A: Jonathan Lusher on Security at America's Malls

Mall security auditor and expert Jonathan Lusher of IPC International assesses the situation for mall security today


'Tis the season for shopping. Malls in the U.S. are experiencing their busiest times, just one week after a mall shooting and hostage taking in Tacoma, Wash. SecurityInfoWatch.com caught up with Jonathan Lusher, a mall security expert with IPC International to talk about securing malls today. Lusher brings a background from police work (7 years) and as a security director for thoroughbred horse racing facilities ("surprisingly similar" to malls, he says) and as a security auditor consultant for 16 years with IPC International (online at www.ipcinternational.com).

As the Senior Vice President, Consulting/ Inspectional Services at IPC, he works to secure America's malls, and his company is notable for having provided guard services at the Tacoma mall where last week's shooting occurred. He is a past chair of the International CPTED Association and is designated a Certified CPTED Practitioner-Advanced. He is also a member of the International Society of Crime Prevention Practitioners and the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS). Jon caught up with us on Monday via phone from his home office in the Texas hill country.

What are we seeing today as the top concerns for mall security directors?

Interestingly enough, the crime situation is one that, if it's not already being put under control at malls, it's being strongly addressed. We are seeing very intense security precautions and numbers have declined. One thing to note is that crime at malls and shopping centers is relevant to the local community, but often it has become much lower than the crime rates in the local community because of the security precautions being taken.

Second of concern, and it's not really a crime issue as much as a customer service issue, is the presence of youth at today's malls. The concern is how you encourage young people to come to the mall and shop there, but at the same time from being unruly or boisterous, basically just being teenagers. This has a lot to do with community relations. Often times there is a cultural disconnect. If elderly customers are the main base, they don't appreciate teens in groups running around, even though those groups aren't usually presenting an issue in terms of crime. Sometimes there is even a racial element to this. We sometimes see elderly, white patrons concerned about groups of black youths. But we have to recognize that those groups aren't there to create crime. They are there to shop. We know that they are the moms and dads of tomorrow; they're the successful single professionals of tomorrow. And we know that their spending habits today will translate into increased, larger spending habits in the future when these teens grow up and have substantial income.

Also, since 9/11, there is a strong focus on terrorism. We have always used the all-hazards approach to responding to emergencies, but certainly since 9/11 terrorism is of greater concern at shopping centers. We look at the potential of all things that can happen. We worry about suicide bombers, especially since our malls are designed to be open facilities. Today we want to be trained and equipped for those consequences.

So our top concerns for today are crime, youth problems and terrorism.

What is the situation of possible terrorism at our nation's malls?

Years ago there was a book called "The Seizing of Yankee Green Mall" (editor's note: in paperback, this book was called Hidden Charges, and is authored by Ridley Pearson) that was about taking a major shopping center hostage. It's still a concern of all governments across the world. We often forget, but the IRA targeted Manchester's shopping centers, and the Israelis have been repeatedly targeted.

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