BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — When it comes to security, there’s more than meets the eye at the Mall of America, the 4.2 million-square-foot shopping utopia here that’s getting ready to break ground on a 5 million-square-foot expansion.
A tour of the sprawling megamall — which is the number-one tourist attraction in America, with more than 40 million visitors annually — found little visible evidence of security during a recent walk-through and a tour of the building’s perimeter and parking garage. Except for a few in-house security officers hovering around the mall’s indoor amusement park called Camp Snoopy, which includes a full-size roller coaster, there were only sporadic sightings of security personnel from one end of the rambling multilevel shopping complex to the other, including the in-house movie theater.
Security cameras were noticeable in each of the mall’s multistory corridors, around the perimeter of the building and in the towering parking garage, though there appeared to be no security patrol in the parking garage. A security patrol officer circled the ground-level parking lots in a small security cart.
But it turns out that there’s myriad sophisticated, behind-the-scenes security measures at Mall of America that were in place long before Sept. 11, according to an interview with mall management.
“Our security program, which is lead by an ex-marine sergeant major, is more comprehensive than you’ll find at most malls across the country, though all aspects are certainly not visible to the casual observer,” said Monica Davis, manager of marketing and public relations, who said the mall has continually remained on a high-alert security status since Sept. 11.
“Obviously, we’re not going to show all our cards. Lots of our security measures are undercover. But they’re quite extensive and include over 100 in-house security officers who comb the mall on foot, bike patrols and security carts, 130 close-circuit television cameras and 130 call boxes placed strategically throughout the building. Since Sept. 11, we’ve also added a full-time bomb-sniffing dog to our security team.”
The Bloomington Police Department opened a five-person substation inside Mall of America in January dedicated solely to the mall. Additionally there’s a mall safety center that’s staffed by two full-time security officers 24 hours a day.
The mall has radically altered its delivery protocol since Sept. 11 and now requires all delivery vehicles to first clear a security inspection station that’s located away from the mall.
To deter teen gang activity, Mall of America recently started a parental escort policy that requires all kids under age 15 to be escorted by an adult over age 21 on Friday and Saturday nights after 6 p.m.
Mall of America is owned by Simon Properties, Chicago, the largest mall developer in the U.S. with a portfolio that includes more than 250 malls in 36 states.
Elsewhere in the Nation…
An informal spot check of several high-profile malls around the country over the past two weeks revealed varying levels of security, ranging from a high and visible presence to less obvious. Here are some observations.
The level of security appeared high at the Galleria in Dallas, a four-level mall with an attached hotel that is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.
Cameras were aimed at visitors walking into the mall from parking garages, and most street-level entries were protected by concrete or metal posts and large planters.
At least eight uniformed security officers were on patrol in the mall, equipped with whistles, radios and telephones. Two more security personnel staffed a concierge desk on the first level, and an SUV topped with flashing lights and marked as Galleria security cruised through a parking garage.
In addition, a tenant pointed out that a security officer monitors all deliveries from trucks, which are channeled through one underground facility.
Security was a lot less evident at Dallas’ NorthPark Center, a U-shaped single-level mall that houses one of the highest-volume units of Neiman Marcus.
Entrances to Foley’s and Dillard’s were outfitted with concrete or metal posts, but most other glass entrances to the mall or individual stores did not have obstacles. The only uniformed security officer spotted during a walk-through of the center was on staff at jeweler Bailey Banks & Biddle.
Half domes presumably concealing cameras dotted the ceilings of many stores, but cameras could not be seen in the mall itself.
At Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, two Simon-owned luxury malls in the affluent Buckhead section, sales signs and Father’s Day promotions were more prominent than any enhanced security.
During a recent midweek afternoon visit at Lenox Square, three uniformed security guards were visible, two in common areas near Gap and Ann Taylor and one in the doorway of Rich’s. Guards were not visible in parking decks, dining areas or outside the mall area. No cameras, barricades or other signs of enhanced security were visible.
At Phipps Plaza, not one uniformed security guard was visible patrolling common entrances, anchor stores, the mall, food court or theater areas. In the multilevel parking lot, a lone uniformed security guard sat studying video screens of various mall entrances. In an adjoining room, a faceless mannequin dressed in a security uniform stood at the entrance to the glass-enclosed office, apparently intended as a decoy or threat to wrongdoers in the parking lot.
Aside from security guards and surveillance cameras, there didn’t appear to be an overwhelming security presence at Manhattan Mall or Macy’s Herald Square flagship during walk-throughs last week.
At both retail spaces, guards were posted at each of the entrances, and TV surveillance cameras cannot be missed upon entering Macy’s; there were no concrete barricades outside to prevent cars from rolling into the stores.
But a Macy’s spokeswoman confirmed that security has been stepped up — surveillance cameras at the entrances were installed after Sept. 11.
“There have always been security guards at all of our nine entrances, distinguishable by their red jackets,” she said. Security dogs travel the store at night, and not during the day, because “we don’t want dogs running about biting our customers.”
Meanwhile, Manhattan Mall security director Dennis Schack said he could not reveal what other security measures the mall has in place — other than the obvious guards and cameras throughout the mall. “We do have other measures in place, but it wouldn’t be security if I revealed them, now, would it?”