At the Frontline: Mall of America Security Director Doug Reynolds

Mall of America is unlike any other shopping venue in the country. In addition to having more than 520 stores and 4.3 miles of total store front footage, the mall is also home to an indoor amusement park and a 1.2 million –gallon aquarium. Just because the mall is as an attraction, however, doesn’t mean it doesn’t share risks common to other retail facilities such as vandalism, shoplifting and other types of crime.

Charged with the task of keeping the mall and its more than 40 million annual visitors safe is Doug Reynolds, who like many of his fellow security executives, didn’t start his career with the ambition of one day being a security director.  

“When I sat down with my guidance counselor when I was 17 or whatever age I was, I certainly didn’t anticipate that I would someday be working as a security director here,” explained Reynolds, who began his career in the military. “When I came off of a series of active duty moves, I went back into college and while I was there I was looking for a part-time job – something that wasn’t going to be boring.”

Eventually, Reynolds said he found a good fit working in security at Mall of America. He took a full-time position with the mall when he finished college and after one more deployment overseas, he applied for a promotion and worked his way up the ranks.      

“The more I worked for Mall of America, the more I liked it,” he said. “There are things I think we get to do in the security world that law enforcement doesn’t, especially when you’re talking about a big city environment. We’re not responding from crisis to crisis, we actually get a chance to interact with the public, see what they’re all about, hear their stories, where they’re from and that type of thing and I really enjoy that.”

In this “At the Frontline” interview, Reynolds discusses some of the security challenges his team faces and the strategies they use to mitigate risks at the nation’s most high-profile shopping mall.

SIW: How does security differ at Mall of America? Does the fact that it is as much of an attraction as it is a shopping venue make a big difference from a security standpoint?

Reynolds: Absolutely, there are a lot of different things that we have to take into account. We have between 40 and 42 million visitors a year. That averages out to be more than 100,000 visitors per day, so it’s not your typical mall by any means. You’re looking at a decent size city on any given day and with that comes all of the good and the bad. When you get 100,000 people doing anything some of them are going to be making bad decisions and I think that’s truer than if you are in an environment where there’s 5,000 people a day going through. There’s also other things; the amusement park is certainly a unique environment and we also have an aquarium here, so as you develop emergency plans you have to account for what you do when you have people down in the aquarium? What do you do when you have people under seven acres of glass in the amusement park? There are always different challenges, but I think that’s part of the excitement of the job. 

SIW: What kind of impact does the sheer size and varying attractions in the mall have on your security program?

Reynolds: We certainly operate on a scale that’s different from a lot of folks in the industry, but there are other aspects to. It’s not just that your average mall maybe has 20 patrol officers and we have 100, but it’s also some of the other things we’ve taken on. We have an active K-9 section and other unique areas like that. Dispatch is a dedicated and full-time position whereas in a lot of places that is just an additional duty for a patrol officer. We have full-time trainers, which from what I’ve seen in the industry is pretty unique here. We also have folks that are dedicated, full-time bike patrol officers that receive special training unique to that position. Because there are so many different things you can do here, there are folks that I’ve seen that are tempted to get into law enforcement, but they get here and they say ‘you know what, this is a job I can see myself doing more long-term’ and they stay here.   

SIW: Do you still have a lot of the typical retail security concerns like shoplifting or does the fact that the mall is such an American icon make you fearful about terrorism?

Reynolds: Certainly, there is a balance between all of the different aspects (of security) and the ones you could think of, but we don’t forget that sometimes there is price for being a trend setter or you expect that there could be a price for that and you should anticipate that and prepare for it. We do spend money and put resources into counterterrorism. Part of it is also to set that industry standard, be out front and show folks what it is possible. A good example is our active shooter program. We didn’t start that because there was a specific threat to Mall of America, we started it because one of the ideas we had was if we can teach our tenants to go into lockdown and train on that twice a month, there’s no excuse for any other shopping mall in the United States not to be able to do that.

SIW: Through the years, malls have been no stranger to mass shootings with the most recent one taking place in a Portland suburb in December. What do you think is the best strategy for mitigating active shooters in a retail environment?

Reynolds: I think there are a few things. First of all, awareness training for your staff and for your tenants; let people know if something doesn’t fit into their environment to give somebody a call and make that threshold for calling security or law enforcement very low so they feel comfortable doing it. So often after these events when people are interviewed after the fact they say: ‘You know, yeah he seemed weird, I saw him, but I just didn’t want to call someone, I just didn’t think that it was necessary to call.’ If you make that threshold low enough and empower people to make those calls, I think it helps. In addition to that, as I mentioned before, we train twice a month on lockdown drills. It’s a very short drill. The analogy we make is that it’s like fire drills. There isn’t a sixth grader in the United States that can’t do a fire drill, so we make it simple. We sound tones to put people into lockdown, the tenants go into lockdown, they get people into their space, lock their gates, turn off lights, and get out of sight a little bit. When they get the all clear, they come out and the whole procedure takes less than 10 minutes.

SIW: How are you employing behavioral recognition techniques to improve the safety of mall visitors and employees?

Reynolds: What’s interesting about behavior recognition training is if you take the title away from it, there’s not an expert in their field… that doesn’t do that to some degree. They know what normal is in their environment. It’s just again about empowering them to say: ‘Alright, now I’m going to do something about that and I’m going to better define and articulate what is out of place with this setting.’ If you’re watching 12 fish swim downstream and one keeps catching your eye, there’s a reason for that, so it’s just a matter of tuning in and saying why is that one fish different from all of the others? What’s made that one catch my eye? A lot of it is getting to know your environment and the other part is reaching out to other departments. What I know is security, what I don’t know is the ins and outs of our electrical department, maintenance, housekeeping, and those types of areas. Those people know what normal is for them and when you teach them to give security a call and explain when something is out of the ordinary, you can resolve a lot of issues. People come in posing as housekeeping or trying to get access to an area, a lot times those other departments will see it before security does.

SIW: Has the proliferation of organized retail crime had an impact on your security program at the mall or perhaps made you look at your tactics in a new way?

Reynolds: We work with law enforcement to track some of the trends, but we tend not to see a lot of those trends here. I don’t know if it is because of our size people figure they can’t get away smoothly or if it is one of a number of other reasons. For the most part, we really just don’t see those organized retail crime trends here. When we do see them, and again this could be a difference, we put a lot of effort into tracking the trends we do see out here, identifying them and stopping them. Two years ago, early in the morning around 2 to 3 a.m., we had some vandalism on the property and this was people throwing beer cans, knocking over planters and that type of stuff and it was on a Thursday night. A week later, Thursday night around 3 a.m. the same thing happened and so I got my staff together and I said ‘hey, you know what, something is going on here.’ Same thing, beer cans thrown, planters knocked over, etc.  And so we put some people out in plainclothes working the area and we had some extra folks watching cameras and that type of thing. The third time they came in we caught them. I know that’s not truly organized retail crime, but it’s just an example of how we track different things going on and try to break it.

SIW: What kind of impact has advances in security technology had on your job?

Reynolds: I think it’s impacted us in a few ways. I’m kind of a physical security guy and, more and more, it used to be that I understood the concepts of physical security and I understood all of the tools required to make those concepts work, but now, more and more, I understand the concepts and I rely on my IT department to implement those tools or figure out how they’re going to work with our existing network and there’s challenges with that. I think the other one we’ve wrestled with is social media. The proliferation of social media and just how rapidly things can get out to a large audience and massive amounts of motion can start happening at a very rapid pace. This year, we’re building out the C3 (communication and command center) and really what we’re adding, we have an existing dispatch area and a beautiful emergency operations center, but what we’re missing is a way to do social media monitoring. When people start, through social media, talking about Mall of America and things they want to come out here and do – maybe negative, maybe positive – we can be a part of those conversations. The other thing it will do in a very guest-oriented way is when somebody sends a text or when somebody tweets something, I think generally they expect a pretty rapid response. Now, if you’re not responding in 15 or 20 minutes, they’re wondering why and this will allow us to put more resources into taking care of those guests.