Abstract: The "Mall of America", also called MOA and the Megamall, is a shopping mall located in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb of the Twin Cities, in the United States. It is located southeast of the junction of Interstate 494 and Minnesota State Highway 77, north of the Minnesota River and is across the interstate from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Opened in 1992, the mall receives 40 million visitors annually. The Triple Five Group, owned by Canada's Ghermezian family, owns and manages the Mall of America, as well as the West Edmonton Mall.
In the United States, it is the second largest mall in terms of retail space, but is the largest in terms of total enclosed floor area. The Mall of America is the second largest mall in North America, after West Edmonton Mall, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (Wikipedia, 2011).
Date: October 11, 2001
Source: New York Times
Abstract: The giant temple of consumerism called Mall of America plays a central role in the heartland's consciousness and draws huge crowds every day. That is why some people who work and shop here are nervous these days.
''When you see reports in the media about possible terror targets, Mall of America is right up there,'' said John, a salesman at Sears who would not allow his last name to be used. ''That has to have an effect on people. It has an effect on me. I'm afraid to come in to work myself.''
Since it opened in 1992, the mall has been a vivid symbol of the United States' long economic boom. Each year 45 million people sample its attractions, which include more than 500 stores and nearly 100 places to eat and drink, along with theaters, night clubs, video arcades and a full-scale amusement park.
With so much on offer, the mall has become a regional attraction. But now, with Americans increasingly worried about the prospect of terrorist attacks, the mall may be suffering from its own popularity.
Some people are staying away, apparently worried that a place with such big crowds could become a target. Business is down. There is plenty of elbow room along the seemingly endless corridors. In some stores, it is not uncommon to find more sales people than customers.
Mall administrators have not released sales figures for the last few weeks, and there have been no reports of stores closing or laying off employees. But managers concede that better business will depend largely on what happens next both within the United States and abroad.
''The first two weeks after Sept. 11 were atrocious,'' said Ryan Hauschild, a bartender at one of the mall's taverns. ''Business is still bad, but it'll improve if there's some resolution to the situation. If we can put a stop to it and get something good happening, then I think we're all going to be happy.''
The mall is in a particularly difficult position because it is not just a place to shop -- it's also a destination. Local people, defined here as those who live within 150 miles, account for about 60 percent of the business. The rest comes from travelers passing through the nearby airport, plus planeloads of shoppers who fly in for daylong or weekend sprees.
''It used to be we'd have 30 or 35 people in the store by 11 o'clock,'' said Randy Byrne, manager of a shop that sells electronics. ''Now we're lucky if we have even 20 at any time during the day.''
Mr. Byrne said business would improve as Americans began to feel safe again.
''Assuming there are no more attacks, people will be back by Thanksgiving,'' he predicted. ''Families are getting closer, and that means more Christmas presents.''
Although fear of terrorism has evidently kept some people away from Mall of America, others are determined not to let the conflict change their lives.
''I'm not afraid,'' said Jolene Rossiter, who took her three small children to a party at the mall that was sponsored by Cheerios. ''I feel safe here.''
This place attracts many mall walkers, mostly older people who come for strolls and coffee before the stores open.
''We still see most of the people we're used to seeing,'' said Roy Bergman, a mall walker. ''I'm not going to change my lifestyle. Besides, if they bomb this place they'll do it when it's full, not early in the morning.''
If tighter security has been imposed, it is not easily visible. Shoppers are not checked as they enter, and the number of uniformed security guards does not appear to have increased.
''We haven't really changed much,'' said Steve Sterrett, chief financial officer of Simon Property Group, which manages the mall. ''Malls have always been very public places.''
Several shoppers said that hints of future terror attacks, including this week's reports of anthrax cases in Florida, have not frightened them.
Erin Runk, 28, drove half an hour to the mall. He said he was browsing in search of Christmas gift ideas.
''I pay a little more attention to what goes on around me, but if it's going to happen, it's going to happen,'' Mr. Runk said. ''There isn't much I can do unless I actually see guys dumping anthrax into the ventilation pipes. I'm not going to cower at home.''
The manager of a news and candy kiosk said customers are staying away because ''at least some of them think Mall of America could be a target.'' At a small cafe, a server said she feared that some places like hers might be forced to close.
Alamo Flags has been the exception. It has sold hundreds of flags, pins, stickers and other patriotic paraphernalia, and is clearly one of the mall's busiest stores.
One morning this week, a Jordanian named Hamzh al-Kayat was behind the counter at Alamo Flags telling customers that although car-sized flags were sold out, larger ones were still available. He said he did not feel uncomfortable and saw no contradiction as an Arab selling American flags.
''I've had a couple of little problems, but nothing serious,'' Mr. Kayat said. ''I'm very happy with this job.''Large flags, not shoppers, abounded on Wednesday at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. Business at the mall, a regional attraction, has dropped since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (New York Times, 2001).
Of America To Hold Terror Training Exercise
Date: September 20, 2002
Source: Brainerd Dispatch
Abstract: The Mall of America and local authorities on Sunday night will conduct a large-scale emergency response exercise based on the idea that a bomb planted by terrorists exploded at the mall.
There will be fake smoke, two fake deaths and 28 fake injuries.
It will be the largest emergency exercise in the mall's history and the first to test response to a terrorist act. About 120 fire, police and emergency personnel will participate.
The mall will not be evacuated, but customers will be kept away from its south side, where the incident will be played out. While stores close at 7 p.m., bars, restaurants and movie theaters will stay open.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, law officers and elected leaders came to believe the megamall would be a likely target in the unlikely event that terrorists focused on Minnesota."I would probably rank it as the No. 1 symbol of America within Minnesota, simply because of what we stand for, our lifestyle, our way of life," said attorney William Michael Jr., former terrorism coordinator and national security coordinator for the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis (Brainerd Dispatch, 2002).
Title: Mall Of America Practices Emergency Lockdown
Date: November 28, 2009
Source: National Terror Alert (DHS)
Abstract: The Mall of America security team will be doing monthly lockdown drills to ensure they are ready if and when trouble strikes. They had their first drill earlier this week, shortly after the mall opened.
This exercise and approach to preparedness is one that I’m hoping other shopping mall managers across the country will take notice of and consider adopting.
Last month you might recall, Spike TV’s Surviving Disaster, featured an episode on how to survive and escape an active shooting by a group of terrorists in a shopping mall (National Terror Alert (DHS), 2009).Title: Mall Of America Adopts See Something Say Something Campaign
Date: December 2, 2010
Source: National Terror Alert (DHS)
Abstract: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, in partnership with Mall of America and the state of Minnesota, today applauded the expansion of DHS’ national “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign throughout Minnesota—to include Mall of America as well as other public venues across the state.
“We are excited to partner with Mall of America and the Department of Homeland Security on their ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ campaign,” said Commissioner Campion. “We value our private partners and the work they do. Their efforts will go a long way to enhancing our statewide ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ campaign.”
The state-wide expansion of the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign will begin in Minneapolis and St. Paul and will leverage Minnesota’s participation in the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative—an administration effort to train state and local law enforcement to recognize behaviors and indicators related to specific terrorist threats and related crime.
Since this summer, DHS has worked with its state, local and private sector partners, as well as the Department of Justice, to expand the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign and Nationwide SAR Initiative to communities throughout the country—including the recent state-wide expansion of the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign throughout New Jersey and new partnerships with organizations including the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), Amtrak, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the general aviation industry and six state and local fusion centers across the Southeastern United States that participate in Southern Shield.
In the coming months, the Department will continue to expand the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign nationally with public education materials and outreach tools designed to engage America’s businesses, communities and citizens to remain vigilant and play an active role in keeping the county safe (National Terror Alert (DHS), 2010).
Title: Israeli Counters Terror At Mall Of America
Date: February 2, 2011
Source: American Jewish World
Abstract: Michael Rozin, an Israeli security expert who came to Minneapolis in 2005, is happy to explain his business.
“Whether it’s a terrorist attack or a criminal act, there are two main factors that play a role,” he says. “One is intent, the other is means.”
Traditionally in the United States, according to Rozin, when it comes to protection from terrorist incidents, the focus has been on detecting the means, or the weapon. He rattles off the sequence: Shoe bomber — we take off our shoes. Plot to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight using liquid explosives — restrictions on liquids. Now, with the underwear bomber, body scanners and pat downs.
“In Israel,” he says, “we learned that detecting the weapon is important, yes; but this is not the solution because the terrorists are very creative and innovative guys, and they learn how to overcome all the technological solutions that you invent to try to detect the bomb. Yet one thing that they cannot conceal is the intent. We address the intent.”
Rozin is currently employed at the Mall of America, where his title is special operations security captain. He recently was featured in the TLC cable show Mall Cops: Mall of America, which showed him training MOA security officers.In charge of terrorism prevention at MOA since 2005, Rozin employs a system there that is based on behavior detection methods that were developed in Israel.
In part because of a cohort of Israelis like Rozin — military veterans and security experts who have parlayed their experience into a successful industry in the U.S. — these methods are now being used here at a number of major facilities and law enforcement agencies.
Rozin himself has branched out, deciding in 2009 to start his own company, Rozin Security Consulting, LLC. He now lists among his clients the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, Metro Transit, divisions of both Twin Cities police departments and, in partnership with another consulting firm, the Public Building Commission of Chicago.
In Israel, Rozin served in an Israel Defense Forces border infantry unit. The Hebrew name of the unit translates as Stinger, named for the Stinger missiles they carried. Literally carried, Rozin adds, on their backs, “whereas in the United States usually they use vehicles for that purpose.”
This distinction in a way gets to the heart of what some analysts say is a recurring problem with U.S. security strategy, that it tends to lurch instinctively toward the high-tech solution. Stingers are the light but deadly heat-seeking missiles that the Reagan administration shipped in large numbers to Islamic fighters in Afghanistan during the 1980s. They enabled a single mujahid (Muslim guerilla fighter) on foot to shoot down a helicopter, and some argue they were the decisive factor in turning back the Soviets. Military historians might see some irony in the fact that Stingers also showed up on the backs of Israeli border units.
After serving in the IDF, Rozin went to work for the Israeli Airports Authority at Ben-Gurion International Airport. There he was involved in both training and operations, under the oversight of Shin Bet.
In Israel, as visitors to the country soon find out, airport security includes a simple low-tech procedure. Someone looks you in the eye and politely asks a few questions that manage to get right into your business.
The situation at the Mall of America, however, differs in major ways from Ben-Gurion Airport. There are no checkpoints, and during the busiest holiday shopping days the number of visitors could approach 200,000, while a busy day at Ben-Gurion might see 60,000.
Still, the basic principles are adaptable, according to Rozin. “We train our officers, first, to detect behavior indicators that can indicate potential harmful intent. Then, once such indicators are detected, to conduct what are called security interviews, built to determine whether a person does or does not pose a threat to our environment.”
Rozin also trains non-security personnel, from human resources to maintenance and ride operators, in maintaining vigilance and recognizing suspicious behavior. “You have to create a culture of security,” he says.
Rozin came to the United States in 2005, to Minneapolis. Why? A good question, he says, with a nod to the blustery weather outside his window.
“The reason is really my wife. She is from here. We met in Israel and throughout my work for the Israeli Airport Authority, we dated. We got engaged, and at some point I decided to try it out here. She is the main reason. Despite the cold she is worth it.”
Rozin’s wife, Kathryn Rozin, is managing director of Rozin Security Consulting. In addition, the company has three employees, “with backgrounds similar to mine,” Rozin says.
Rozin anticipates no shortage of work.
“I think that the threat of terrorism in the United States is going to become an unfortunate part of American life” (American Jewish World, 2011).
Date: June 23, 2011
Abstract: NPR News Investigations and the Center for Investigative Reporting analyzed 125 reports totaling more than 1,000 pages on shoppers and incidents at Mall of America that mall security personnel and local police identified as suspicious persons or activities potentially related to terrorism. The documents included personal information on the subjects, as well as detailed incident narratives written by mall security guards or local police officers or personnel at Minnesota's state fusion center. Indications of whether the cases were forwarded to the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Minnesota Joint Analysis Center or Immigration and Customs Enforcement were also provided. The database below provides NPR's summaries of the narratives, incident locations and whether the incident involved the taking of photos or videos, which was a common theme. In addition, NPR analyzed the identification of persons by race or ethnic group (NPR, 2011).
Title: Under Suspicion At The Mall Of America
Date: September 7, 2011
Abstract: Since Sept. 11, the nation's leaders have warned that government agencies like the CIA and the FBI can't protect the country on their own — private businesses and ordinary citizens have to look out for terrorists, too. So the Obama administration has been promoting programs like "See Something, Say Something" and the "Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative."
Under programs like these, public attractions such as sports stadiums, amusement parks and shopping malls report suspicious activities to law enforcement agencies. But an investigation by NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting suggests that at one of the nation's largest shopping malls, these kinds of programs are disrupting innocent people's lives.
One afternoon three years ago, Francis Van Asten
drove to the Mall of America, near Minneapolis, and started recording. First he filmed driving to the mall. Then he filmed a plane landing at the nearby airport, and then he strolled inside the mall and kept recording as he walked. He says he was taking a video to send to his fiancee in Vietnam.
As he started filming, he didn't realize that he was about to get caught up in America's war on terrorism — the mall had formed its own private counterterrorism unit in 2005. And now, a security guard had been tailing Van Asten since before he entered the mall. Van Asten was first approached by a guard outside a clothing store.
"And he asked me what I was doing. And I said, 'Oh, I'm making a video.' And I said, 'Are we allowed to make videos in Mall of America, and take pictures and stuff?' He says, 'Oh sure, nothing wrong with that,' " explains Van Asten. "So I turn to start walking away, and then he started asking me questions. Why am I making a video, what am I making a video of, what I did for a living, and he asked me, what's my hobbies?"
The guard called another member of the mall's security unit, and they questioned Van Asten for almost an hour before summoning two police officers from the Bloomington Police Department.
"I hadn't done anything wrong. I wasn't doing anything wrong, according to them even. I asked the policeman why I was being detained," says Van Asten. "He said, 'Listen, mister, we can do this any way you want:
the easy way or the hard way.' "
And then, the police took Van Asten down to a police substation in the mall's basement.
Counterterrorism At The Mall
The Department of Homeland Security has been using public service announcements to ask Americans and private businesses to stay vigilant.
"I think our name first of all, Mall of America, is attractive to people that want to hurt America," says Maureen Bausch, vice president of the Mall of America. She says at least 100,000 people visit the mall on a typical day.
"We are definitely the No. 1 attraction in Minnesota, one of the biggest attractions in the United States," she says. "So the government officials have asked us always, since 9/11, to be on the watch."
The mall calls its counterterrorism unit RAM, or Risk Assessment and Mitigation. The unit is staffed with private security personnel.
Bausch wouldn't say in detail how this unit identifies people like Van Asten as potential terrorists, but documents obtained by NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting provide some insight. NPR and CIR asked 29 law enforcement agencies across the country to give us suspicious activity reports from attractions in their areas – everything from amusement parks to baseball stadiums. We asked under state versions of the Freedom of Information Act. The only officials who responded were in Minnesota: They sent us 125 reports that involved suspicious activities at the Mall of America. One of those reports that the Mall sent to local police is on Francis Van Asten.
According to the 18-page report on Van Asten, the mall's RAM unit thought he was "very suspicious" because he kept filming as he walked. He didn't start and stop like most people do. Van Asten says that's true. He wanted to convey the experience of going to the mall. The counterterrorism unit thought he might be mapping an attack.
The report tells how the Bloomington police officers took Van Asten to a police substation in the basement in the Mall of America after mall security questioned him. They frisked him. They seized his camera. They detained him in that room for one more hour. The police called the Joint Terrorism Task Force. And an FBI agent told them: Seize the memory card in Van Asten's camera and delete all his videos.
After two hours they let him go. Van Asten says he loves this country. Back when he was in the Army, he worked at a nuclear missile site
. But he says that afternoon at the Mall of America shook him.
"When I was finally released, I couldn't find my way to my own car for over a half-hour. I sat down in my car and I cried and I was shaking like a leaf."
Ordinary Behavior Triggers Reports
The documents from the Mall of America suggest that sometimes, the RAM unit gets suspicious about things you'd probably notice, too — like a pair of unattended suitcases. But much of the time the security guards report people for seemingly ordinary behavior.
Mall security reported one man because he was sitting on a bench in the corridor, "observing others while writing things down on a note pad." They worried he might be a terrorist "conducting surveillance." Turned out he was a musician waiting for a friend. Three security guards surrounded another man because they thought he was looking at them "oddly" and walking "nervously" through the amusement park; he turned out to be an insurance company manager, shopping for a watch for his son.
"I'm not real sure I'd go to the mall. I mean they might accuse me of being a terrorist," says Dale Watson, who used to run the counterterrorism program at the FBI.
After reading some of Mall of America's suspicious activity reports he pushed them away.
"I mean, if somebody's in buying ammonia nitrate out in Pennsylvania in a rural place, in a rental truck, you know, and the owner's never seen them before, putting in plastic barrels, I'd say yeah, that's a suspicious activity, they should be reported," he says. "The value of what I've seen here is absolutely not worth the effort."
A Missing Cellphone
Yet look what happened when Najam Qureshi's father came under suspicion at the Mall of America.
Najam Qureshi was born in Pakistan, but he's been a U.S. citizen since he was a teenager. Today, he manages computer systems for a major company near Minneapolis. He and his family live on a pretty suburban street.
In January 2007, an FBI agent showed up on his doorstep. It turned out that a few weeks before, Qureshi's father had left his cellphone on a table in the Mall of America's food court. When the mall's counterterrorism unit saw the unattended phone, plus someone else's cooler and stroller, guards cordoned off the area. Qureshi's father wandered back, looking for his phone, and the RAM unit interrogated him and then reported him to the Bloomington police. In turn, the police reported the incident to the FBI. The documents we obtained show that the mall's reports went to state and federal law enforcement, in roughly half the cases. The incident with Qureshi's father led the FBI to want to question Qureshi himself, in his own home.
"He asked me if I knew anybody in Afghanistan. And that was kind of like, what?! And, then he asked me if I had any friends in Pakistan," Qureshi says.
The FBI also asked him if he knew anybody that would try to hurt the U.S. government, according to Qureshi.
"My reaction in my mind, was, 'How dare this guy in my house, come in and say this,' " he recalls.
But mall officials stand by their program of identifying suspicious people.
"You're talking about a handful of people that are complaining, out of the 750 million plus that have been through these doors since 1992," Bausch says. "And we apologize if it, you know, if it caused them any inconvenience, I mean we really do."
"Unfortunately the world has changed," says Bausch. "We assume you'd want your family and friends to be safe if they are in the building. And we simply noticed something that we didn't think was right."
A commander with the Bloomington police said these reports would be kept on file for decades. When Qureshi found out that the 11-page report reading "suspicious person" would be kept that long, his eyes filled with tears.
"It shattered an image of the U.S. that I had, fundamentally. I don't know, especially when I saw some of these reports. It's definitely bothersome, how small things can just, you know, trickle up that quickly, and all of a sudden you're labeled. And once you're labeled, you're basically messed up, right?"
Do Suspicious Activity Reports Keep Us Safer?
John Cohen, who helps run the counterterrorism programs at the Department of Homeland Security, says the suspicious activity reports have already made America safer.
"One recent example is the case of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber. Where a suspicious activity report ... helped lead to the identification of the individual who tried to commit the Times Square bombing," Cohen says. Other counterterrorism specialists discount that example, since the report did not help prevent an attack: It was luck that the car bomb didn't explode.
Juliette Kayyem, a former counterterrorism adviser to the governor of Massachusetts and an assistant secretary at the Homeland Security Department until last year, says she doesn't know of any cases in which suspicious activity reporting led to the apprehension of a terrorist.
"From these reports [from the Mall of America], these are security officials who appear to be simply approaching people for very innocuous-seeming behavior," she says. "There's not a huge amount of quality control."
Watson, the former FBI counterterrorism chief, says he believes people have been "in a rush to get involved in the war on terrorism."
"I see a pattern here where American citizens are being suspected of something without any of the legal standards," Watson says. "If that'd been one of my brothers that was stopped in a mall, I'd be furious about it, if I thought the police department had a file on him, an information file, about his activities in the mall, without any reasonable suspicion to investigate."
Over the decades, court decisions have spelled out detailed rules: When can a policeman stop you? Search you? When can the police detain you? Watson says those reports from the Mall of America suggest that suspicious activity reporting programs could push the country in the wrong direction.
"To heck with the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Let's just stop all of this stuff. OK. So, if I'm driving down the street and I'm a police officer, if I want to stop you, I'll just stop you. Or if I see you wearing a red coat, maybe I'll think you're a Communist, in the old Communist days. So I'll take you to jail and hold you for 24 hours. That is not what we are," he says (NPR, 2011).
Title: Security Under Fire: Mall Of America's Security Director Doug Reynolds Speaks
Date: Sepetember 27, 2011
Source: Security Director News
Abstract: Earlier this month, NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting published several stories that accused security at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., of racial profiling and supplying "intelligence spam" to local, state and federal law enforcement. The reports were based on suspicious activity reports filed by the mall's own behavior detection officers with local and state law enforcement.
Mall of America's security director Doug Reynolds was not interviewed for the NPR and CIR stories, but he took the opportunity to speak with Security Director News about the accusations of racial profiling and the mall's behavior detection officers, part of its Risk Assessment and Mitigation counterterrorism group.
Below, Reynolds, an Army veteran, who started at the mall in 1996 as a part-time dispatcher and worked his way up to become security director in 2006, tells SDN how he helped develop the Mall’s security program over the last decade, and why he believes it should be a model for other retail outlets in North America. Further, he discusses how he believes NPR reporters missed the mark in their reporting of the story.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:
SDN: Give me a brief overview of the security system at Mall of America.
Reynolds: We see approximately 42 million people a year go through our doors, and as director of security I'm responsible for maintaining safety and order in that environment ... We have traditional security, uniformed patrol presence ... along the way we've also invested a lot of money in additional training for our patrol officers, dispatchers and many other positions ... Many of us within the department have a military background and understand the value of training upfront and that it pays huge dividends. And we will invest eight- to 12-weeks in [training] an individual patrol officer before they ever take a call on their own. That's unusual in the industry.
How did security at Mall of America change after 9/11?
Initially, we closed on Sept. 11 because we didn’t know how widespread the situation was going to be, but we were open on the 12th. We had Mall of America employees at every entrance and in every courtyard for people to see ... That was one of first changes we made. We understood people want to be comfortable and know somebody is there.
We [also] started looking at technological solutions. We evaluated [facial recognition] and decided it was not a good fit for us ... We increased our camera coverage by about 20 percent at that time. We started looking at areas that could be or should be controlled and how we were controlling them–restricted access areas, that sort of thing [We rewrote our emergency action plan, and started building our canine team].
Tell me about the mall's Risk Assessment and Mitigation counterterrorism unit.
We looked at different [behavior profiling] programs that were out there and the one we liked was going on at Ben Gurion [International] Airport in Tel Aviv. They didn't always have behavior profiling there. They used to do a different type of profiling, which was racially based. And they had a horrible incident where the [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] teamed up with a Japanese Red Army group and they came in and conducted a terrorist attack and they weren't looking for people of Japanese descent to conduct an attack. If you're not Middle Eastern they thought you were not a concern. That showed them quickly that that type of profiling doesn't work, that if you are going to do [profiling], it needs to be behavior-based and nothing else. So we looked at that. We brought in a gentleman who has worked at Ben Gurion International Airport doing behavior profiling … to develop a program for Mall of America and he had a concept of how it worked in Israel but I wanted, if you will, to Americanize it. And that's what we did. We started that in 2005.
Tell me about the NPR story and your initial reaction to it.
I had a few initial reactions. It started with NPR teaming up with another group, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and my concern was some of the past articles [from CIR] seemed to be very skewed and did not seem to be very balanced. They seemed to definitely go into it with an agenda. It's hard, when somebody is entrenched in their way of thinking, to believe you're going to be fairly represented.
I knew they had requested this information and that they were going to be looking at our reports because they requested them through the state of Minnesota and through the city of Bloomington. We knew they were going to do this, so when they contacted us about the story, honestly I was not eager to do the story. I wasn't comfortable with the reporter, but that having been said, we’ve always been good about relationships with the media and saying 'hey we have a good program here and we're confident in it.' We don't want to hide the program. We brought this program up in the media on any number of occasions. I testified in front of Congress that this is a good program and this is something the U.S. should look at if they're looking to protect large-scale facilities.
What was your reaction to the final product of their reporting?
Some of the statistics they came up with just didn’t match anything we had and when we tried to correct them they just didn’t seem like they were receptive. Honestly, I have nothing to hide. I am very confidant in the program. We audit it all the time. If you look at how many interviews we did last year–we talked to 1,400 people that came to Mall of America, which may seem like a large number [until] you consider that 42 million people a year come to Mall of America. I think they were making a big deal out of something that is truly not a big deal.
When you look at some of the cases I didn't feel they were fairly representing all the information in those cases. One of the things they did, which I hope readers looked at, was they attached the [suspicious activity] reports. If you read the actual reports that were submitted, you'd see that there are more to them. One example is, [NPR] talked to one gentleman who left his cell phone, and that was the whole [gist] of the story: Why would you talk to somebody who just left their cell phone behind on a table? If you read the report, you find he left a cell phone, two coolers, a box and that he had done this on other occasions. I think that is somebody worth talking to.
The claim NPR and CIR made was that Mall of America's RAM officers were racially profiling. What's your reaction to that?
I think if you look at their own numbers, they don't support some of their documents. We've looked at it: The number one person that we stop out here and talk to is a Caucasian male. That's certainly not racial profiling if it's Caucasian males we talk to most often. That's not by design; that's how the statistics work out.
NPR is a national news outlet and the stories got a fair amount of play in the media. What kind of challenges did that create for security when that type of press comes out with those types of accusations?
The challenge is that we have an obligation to keep guests safe and if we have a good program in place to do that, even when it's being challenged, I need to understand this is a good program, it's there for good reasons and I can't suspend the program or stop it just because someone wrote a biased one-sided article. If the program really has integrity, if it's a good program with good people doing good things, then we're going to continue doing it because at the end of the day there are 42 million people every year counting on us to protect them.
What kind of lessons did you learn as far as being a security director and dealing with the media?
If you are going to be a security director and a leader, you need to look towards your people. So I wanted to make contact with my people right away, and say 'hey, here's what 's coming, here's how we think it's going to be written, here's what we've learned and what we may do differently and I want to let you know we still support what you do,' and ensure them that they did nothing wrong and they were doing exactly what they were trained to do and that we still support that program.
I think the other piece that was important [is] the people we protect, the public, and letting them know why this program exists. We started pitching additional stories to the media. We've been open to doing that for many years but this certainly gave us cause to go out and pitch it more.
What's your advice to other security directors when it comes to dealing with the media? If the media comes calling, should security directors be open to those requests or has this experience made you more wary?
There was a time that by default we didn't talk to the media. And we've really done a 180 with that. The media is a tool. It's a way of getting your message out there. People are going to talk and if you don’t give them the information, they're going to form their own opinions about how things are going, their own assumptions. I would say it's almost always better to talk to the media and get your message out then to ignore them. I was disappointed in the way they chose to write this story. If they wouldn't have come into it with an idea or notion in their head of how it was going to be before the interviews, I think they could have a had a really good story about a program that's successful and should be modeled, I believe, through the rest of the U.S.
Anything else to add?
When we started this program we understood it's not a common program, there are not a lot of entities in the U.S. that do it. So when it was a week old I told my bosses and the ownership that at some point this will be challenged, but the best thing you can do is prepare for that in advance. We kept statistics on who it is we were stopping, we kept detailed reports on why we were interviewing people and that type of thing, with the assumption that some day somebody would want to see that. If you can do that, if you know you have a good program and it's being done for the right reason, then you should be able to provide that information, keep track of it and feel comfortable with it. At the end of the day, if you can put your head down on your pillow and close your eyes comfortably, you know you're doing the right thing (Security Director News, 2011).