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edition 12 (196)
December 2014
Facility Management

The invisible hand in the velvet glove

The multitude of problems faced by shopping centre security services – and how they deal with them

Anna Pakulniewicz

The invisible hand in the velvet glove

The shopping centre – an oasis of peace and tranquility. a safe haven. Shoppers are meant to feel secure and spend their time in a pleasant atmosphere without fearing for their safety. this is the aim of the management of all malls. customers then stay longer, the shopping is more pleasant and more money is spent And this makes the customers want to come back

What dangerous things can happen in a shopping centre? After a conversation with the representatives of the security services in dozens of malls, it turns out that there are many hazards – more than one might have expected. In malls, just as in any other public place, one can encounter a whole cross section of society. Dangerous people, those who disrupt the peace or expose visitors to unpleasant experiences, are by no means averse to treading the polished floors of shopping centres. What are the goals set for the security service by shopping centre managers? To be invisible, discreet and efficient. Hazards and problems are best nipped in the bud. And if something happens, the customer must not witness the intervention. The name of the game is the image of the shopping centre. And it is the security service which looks after it, not the PR team.

Greatest concerns and mundane problems

Security teams are most anxious about the possibility of unexpected problems or random incidents, because it is they who are responsible for preventing catastrophes and evacuating the mall. For example, the collapse of the roof in City Centre in Poznań had to be ‘talked through’ in the media and elsewhere for quite some time in order to regain customers’ trust. Another issue is the potential for fires and technical malfunctions to take place. City Security explains that the alarm and fire systems are the reason why security service staff cannot be replaced by machines or hi-tech video surveillance, since it is the security service that operates the systems. “A shopping centre without a security service has no raison d’être. There have been some attempts to install just cameras and video surveillance systems, but this did not work, you cannot replace a human being. You can reduce the number of staff, like in Sweden, where instead of ten security guards there are four; but it is impossible to eliminate them completely. And they probably have the best video surveillance system in the world over there. A computer will not make a decision on its own, even though it registers something,” says Krzysztof Sztabiński, the national director of security in shopping centres at City Security. “In the case of a fire the security service is a significant part of the evacuation of the facility and in the case of a technical malfunction the security is usually in the first line, striving to minimise losses,” points out Krzysztof Bartuszek of Securitas Polska. In such facilities terrorism is also a potential risk because it is directly related to the threat to life and potentially high losses. Even though no significant events representing this field have taken place in Poland so far, they should not be underestimated. Shopping centres are facilities which constitute a target of potential attacks due to the high number of people present. The security service is crucial for discovering such threats and prevention,” he adds. It also sometimes happens that the security service initiates action against drug dealers or gangs of car thieves. The collected recordings and testimonies of the security service staff can represent valuable evidence for the police and the prosecution. These are the most serious problems, but fortunately they do not happen every day. On a daily basis the security service is involved in dealing with more everyday issues, like watching out for homeless people, paedophiles, beggars and a variety of incidents that can happen in places like the toilets. “The security service practically has to be prepared for anything. I’ve known of cases of rape, as well as suicides, when desperate people have made attempts to jump off the top level of the shopping centre to gain attention. There have also been births – definitely a more positive aspect of the job, but still not an easy thing to handle,” explains Krzysztof Bartuszek. Difficult tasks which, however, can generate a great deal of satisfaction, such as when the security service in Sadyba Best Mall had to use a defibrillator recently, which had been bought by the facility manager. They managed to save someone who was exhibiting no vital functions.

Chainsaw massacre averted – just!

Krzysztof Sztabiński of City Security has been guarding shopping centres in various places in Warsaw for dozen of years. He believes that just by looking at Warsaw you can see that it contains two completely different worlds on the two different sides of the river. According to the reports of the security service staff, groups are coming in from abroad to trade in the car parks or even in shopping centres themselves in centres in Praga,on the right bank. “I had a case that involved selling chainsaws. When a security guard approached the sellers, absolute pandemonium broke out. The seller threw himself at the security guard with a chainsaw that had been started up,” the shift manager at the time told us. When it comes to such traders (perhaps with the exception of a security guard being attacked with a chainsaw), the police are not able to help. In such cases it occurs the goods were purchased legally, and the only prohibited thing is door-to-door selling. But the sellers have solution for this. Firstly they do not get caught – the goods are immediately hidden in car boots, the traces of trading goods covered up and the sellers themselves drive away. They are often quicker than the police and are elusive.

Angry youth

Foreign thieving and gangs of traders are not the only problem. According to Krzysztof Sztabiński in Warsaw it is also difficult to combat the behaviour of the more “difficult” community of Praga district. “The youth here have different standards compared to left bank of Warsaw,” says the director of City Security. Here the security service has a hard time with youth who are mainly involved in toilet vandalism. “Young people skive off, they need to have a smoke, so they go to the toilets. They are chased away once or twice so they decide to take revenge,” says Krzysztof Sztabiński. Thus the repeated damage to the toilets. Such behaviour does not just happen on the Praga side of the city, but also in many of the larger malls in the city centre, near schools. In smaller centres, such as King Cross centres, there are no such problems. “In the smaller ones we are mainly involved in combatting shoplifting, drunks and people who obtain money under false pretences. The police arrive at the centre regularly every two hours. And that worries people,” says Krzysztof Sztabiński. In centres managed by Impel Security such undesirables can also be difficult to handle. “Even after school, young people come to shopping centres out of boredom simply because they want to stir up trouble,” says Tomasz Kozłowski, the manager at Impel Security. But in this case alcohol is actually a help, not hindrance. In Złote Tarasy there are the so-called filters, i.e. security service staff who eliminate people consuming alcohol, under the influence of alcohol or already behaving strangely at the entrances. The regulations provide the excuse – a person under the influence of alcohol cannot enter the centre according to the rules. And the problem is solved. Things are a little more difficult when it comes to the problem of ‘mall girls’, who come looking for clients. “Mall girls are a problem because we know what is going on but we cannot respond to it. They do not do anything wrong in the facility and what happens in private cars in car parks is their own business. We cannot interfere in male-female relations,” reveals the representative of a security service company for a large mall.

A lack of incidents? Lay on a concierge service

There are relatively few problems in Warsaw’s Klif centre. “There is no cinema there, no entertainment, just a few restaurants and only more expensive brands, which attracts wealthier, mostly middle-aged customers. There has been shoplifting like in any other shopping centre in the past, but mostly in Alma supermarket, not in the boutiques,” says Krzysztof Sztabiński of City Security, which looks after the centre. Klif also has security staff patrolling the centre in civilian clothes, while the boutiques have separate security, both from City Security and its competitors. Since things are so calm in Klif, the security service can involve itself in “extra-curricular” tasks, which is why security staff offer concierge services. “The staff not only know where to buy the latest trousers of a given brand, but they are also able to provide this information in English,” explains Paweł Mążyński who is responsible for the implementation of the concierge programme at Klif. When will we be able to use such services in Złote Tarasy? Admittedly, the number of dangerous or unpleasant situations in or around the mall has been declining, as the security service in the centre can boast, but the proximity of the Central Station, a transfer hub including a bus station, suburban trains and metro stations and the entertainment offer still combine to generate a lot of work for the security service. Virtually all of Poland passes through, as the security workers describe it. Krzysztof Sztabiński describes just how the fight against shoplifters pans out: “We certainly have less shoplifting. We try to filter out the thieves at the main entrances. Sometimes we have to operate on the corridors when we receive the information from a shop that a shoplifter is making his or her escape. After catching the person we discreetly walk them back to the store and take care of everything together with the shop manager. We do not let the delinquent go until the police arrive,” says City Security’s national director. “We visit each tenant and explain how they should behave, who they should call and what they should report. The ‘Chinese whispers telephone’ system works remarkably well. When they see somebody shoplifting, the traders do not start shouting, they do not call the police or the security service straight away, but quietly inform the security by phone and we alert our employee standing somewhere at the side to quietly take care of everything. The catching of the culprit takes place discreetly. The customers of the centre do not see anything. The entire ‘investigation’ is done inside the shop, behind closed doors, including the arrival of the police. The police are also asked to be discreet. We must not turn it into a circus. We have to eliminate such people of course, but without any major commotion and in a way appropriate to the situation. The times when people enjoy seeing such thriller-like actions are long gone. Shopping centre managers demand discretion,” adds Krzysztof Sztabiński. A problem that needs a fix It is relatively easy to deal with shoplifting, but there is also the issue of drug abuse. There were times when the epicentre of drug dealing was located at main stations in major cities. Now some of the addicts have moved to the more pleasant toilets of the shopping centres located nearby. “If somebody is struggling to walk, this is a reason for escorting them out of the centre. But there are also individuals who go to the toilet soberly just for one shot. We then have to react to reports of a toilet being locked for a long time,” explains Krzysztof Sztabiński. Other security companies have told us that syringes are very often found. Sometimes the feet of addicts are left stick out of the cubicle – or even dead overdose victims can be found. The best solution to this problem is to increase cooperation with the police and the city guards with the security service through seminars at police stations, as well as careful observation using video surveillance cameras. “You can apprehend such a person in a way that looks like two friends going outdoors for a cigarette,” claims the manager of City Security.

Juvenile competitions

Begging, drug abuse and young people stirring up trouble are the basic problems that have to be dealt with, but additional issues can vary. For example, Sadyba Best Mall has an additional youth-related problem. “There are often showings for schools in the Imax cinema in the centre. Even as many as 40 coaches with young people can turn up for these. And there only has to be one ‘black sheep’ in each coach... At best case we have to deal with scribbling with markers, vandalising toilets and inscriptions on walls,” explains the representative of one security company. “But there are cases when bored teenagers make bets with each other over who will steal the most in a shop. There was a case of a school excursion that had some free time in one of the malls and something like that happened. But the ruse was uncovered and we caught 15 teenagers,” recalls Tomasz Kozłowski of Impel. One of the not so dangerous but rather frequent duties of the security service is the ‘clearing’ of car parks of the people who want to ‘secure’ the car parks for themselves and make money from it. More touts such as these can be found in centres that do not have too many parking spaces. “Such issues have to be eliminated from the outset, because this is what the administrator wants,” explains Krzysztof Sztabiński. Football supporters can provide some additional but very dubious entertainment. “Before the match they can arrange to meet in the shopping centre car park as this is where they sometimes take the coach for a match. They gather earlier, go shopping, mainly for groceries, consume the items and use the toilets. This is when other customers start leaving the centre because they are scared. And we cannot do anything in such situations, because any reaction from our side could be act as a tinderbox. We certainly cannot be aggressive, we cannot threaten them and we only intervene as a last resort,” says Impel Security’s representative. Even though the security service of a shopping centre is not obliged to protect the stores themselves, there are situations when they have to intervene inside the shops – for example, when customers start fighting in them. “There are also cases where tenants go bust and attempt to escape from the outlet they lease at night, with all their goods. So we also have to keep an eye on such things,” says Tomasz Kozłowski. The whole battle to keep shopping centres secure has to be handled not just in velvet, but transparent gloves. “Security, efficiency and discretion. Security guards must not be conspicuous. They need to act like Hollywood stars’ bodyguards. They are there but should not stick out. They control the access to the stars, they act when it is needed, but when there is something going on they are fast and efficient,” is how Krzysztof Sztabiński of City Security summarises his work. ν

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