Over the past several weeks, SIW has extensively covered retail security in the wake of this year’s Black Friday sales. The behavior of shoppers during these sales events has become even more abhorrent in recent years, but what we’ve discovered is that while some incidents that occur inside stores grab most of the headlines, in reality, many of the most dangerous crimes occur in store parking lots.
These crimes are usually perpetrated by people looking to take advantage of holiday shoppers that are either flush with cash or recently purchased merchandise. Obviously, one of the best ways to curtail crime in parking lots is by having security officers patrol the premises, which not only helps to ward off potential threats, but also makes customers feel safer.
SIW recently caught up with Orlando I. Aguilera, general manager, Miami, at G4S Secure Solutions to discuss how guards can be better utilized during the holiday shopping season.
SIW: How have these doorbuster sales events increased the importance of having contract guards and what benefits do they provide retailers during the holiday shopping season?
Aguilera: The holiday season regularly attracts large crowds at retail shopping centers and malls. While decorations, music and sales items create a festive mood, a hidden danger lurks among the many patrons attracted to these locations. Thieves seeking an easy and distracted target use this time to perpetrate their crimes as they can easily blend in with the crowd of shoppers. Whether it’s a distracted patron who momentarily loses site of her purse or belongings or it’s the parked car containing recently purchased items, these are all opportunities for those individuals who are seeking a quick, albeit illegal payday. Another consideration is the behavior of shoppers who are stressed and aggravated with the rigors of finding a parking space and fighting the crowds to seek and purchase their items. This can easily result in an unruly mob quickly losing control and individuals becoming physical. Retailers understand these vulnerabilities and are more inclined to contract with private security, which can help maintain order as they provide a force multiplier to law enforcement efforts during this time of year.
SIW: What are some of the biggest challenges for guards during these sales events particularly as it pertains to securing the parking lots?
Aguilera: Certainly the most challenging task for a guard is to remain focused in the midst of the dizzying frequency in which cars and patrons enter and exit the retail shops and parking lots. As the holiday season progresses the retail areas will attract larger crowds. The most effective security effort is one where the parking lot is broken into separate sectors with officers assigned with the responsibility of patrolling an individual sector. Breaking down areas of responsibilities into manageable grids are helpful in allowing officers to remain focused as it keeps officers from being overwhelmed. Furthermore, it allows the officer to observe behavior that simply stands out from the norm, which typically indicates trouble.
SIW: For those that decide to hire contract guards for Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season, what are the most effective ways they can provide security for customers entering and leaving stores? (E.g. a foot patrol of the premises, a patrol in a vehicle, or as we see in many places now - a Segway)
Aguilera: The most effective security measure in this type setting is one of high visibility and variation, meaning a balance between standing-posts at entrances, coupled with high-profile foot and vehicle patrols.
SIW: While some retailers utilize covert guards or off-duty police officers to initiate arrests to deter crime, how visible do you advice retailers that guards should be in parking lots?
Aguilera: Covert law enforcement activity in the retail sector during the holidays is a proven and time honored program. However, it is absolutely vital that this effort be an augmentation to a high visibility security program. While covert activity is generally very successful in apprehending those involved in criminal activity, it is the combination of both covert and high visibility security which typically results in the overall reduction of criminal activity.
SIW: Other than providing a physical presence, what are some of the other ways in which a guard can secure a parking lot? (E.g. providing escorts for customers and employees, etc.)
Aguilera: Escorts are an effective way of ensuring the safety of patrons and employees, however, it is not the most efficient use of security staffing. Many holiday security programs use elevated observation platforms to oversee areas of the parking lot. Perhaps posting these platforms in various strategic locations throughout the parking lot will prove a great deal more efficient and just as effective as personal transports.
For more in-depth coverage, click here to read an exclusive SIW feature on this issue.