Watching out for customers
Oct 1, 1997 12:00 PM
Mall developer Macerich uses CCTV and other strategies. When a thief smashed a J.C. Penney's window at the Cloverleaf Mall near Richmond, Va., and made off with thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, all of the local television stations jumped on the story of mall security. Teams of reporters descended upon malls throughout the metropolitan region.
The resulting stories began with the theft but also focused on Chesterfield Towne Center, which had recently installed a $350,000 security system complete with closed-circuit television, access control at mall entrances and office doors, and a security information booth housing the CCTV monitoring station out in the mall common area.
The reporters interviewed happy customers and smiling police officers about Chesterfield. "I think it's wonderful," said a customer. "This makes me feel comfortable."
Major A.V. Madra of the Chesterfield Police Department appeared on camera praising the system. "First of all, it will prevent crime," he said. "When you know there are cameras on you, you're not likely to get involved in a criminal activity."
"Twenty-five years ago, no one wanted to see a security officer on any sort of property," says Gene Thompson, corporate director of security for Macerich, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based owner of the Chesterfield Towne Center mall. "The thinking was that if there are security people on a property, it must be dangerous. Don't go there.
"Today, people have concerns about personal safety. And our goal as a mall owner is to set up an environment where customers can feel comfortable and safe."
Which is the message relayed to the Richmond viewing audience by the local television news reports. "The (CCTV) cameras send a clear message to shoppers," said one reporter. "You can feel safe coming here. And to criminals: They are watching everywhere."
Public relations is, of course, one thing, and real security is another. Macerich, which owns 27 malls across the country and four others, has set the bar in the mall industry for designing systems to protect patrons and property. According to Thompson, the company has installed security technology in 15 of its malls to date.
The new system at Chesterfield and a new system recently completed at Queens Center in New York City represent Thompson's latest thinking on what it takes to provide adequate security at a mall.
Thompson believes that a security department should play a dual role; it should protect people and property and also provide services to shoppers. "Ninety-five percent of the job of our security officers is customer service," he says. Macerich security officers are trained to tell customers how to get to stores, help find a lost car in the parking lot, tend to a child's skinned knee, and provide CPR in an emergency. "You also want them trained for that 5 percent of the job where they have to deal with the small minority of people visiting the mall that don't obey the rules," he says.
Thompson expects security technology to play the same kind of public role as his people. For example, whenever possible he places the security monitoring station in 6-foot tall kiosks in the common areas of Macerich malls. "We want people to see that we have the system," he says. "They can see it as officers operate it and zoom in on the parking lot or watch areas of the mall. When customers ask how it works, the officer will show them. Kids love to watch the monitors and learn how the system works."
The Chesterfield Towne Center security station is built into the mall's information booth, again out in the common area.
Forty-four Sony color cameras feed video into the Chesterfield security station. Twenty-five cover the inside of the mall. Most scan the public areas, including the mall's seven entrances, with Pelco pan-tilt-zoom domed mounts. Eleven fixed cameras watch behind the scenes in the service corridors. Eight more pan-tilt-zoom Pelco domes with Sony cameras continuously sweep the parking lot.
At the security/information booth, camera cables connect to a bank of four Sprite dx multiplexers manufactured by Dedicated Micros Inc., Reston, Va. Each multiplexer can handle a total of 16 cameras and controls the video signal feeding four Sony SVT-S3100 time lapse VCRs, which record all of the cameras in the system all the time.
"The cameras produce 30 frames per second of video, and the multiplexer routes about one frame every 1.2 seconds from each camera into the VCR, which is set to record in time- lapse mode. In effect, the system records camera one through 16, one through 16, again and again," explains Mickey MacDaniel, vice president of sales and marketing for CIS Security Systems Corp. in Arlington, Va. CIS has installed four Macerich mall systems, including Chesterfield Towne Center and Queens Center. "For playback, the multiplexer decodes the video and reassembles it. You just hit the button for the camera you want to see and that video goes to the monitor."
The multiplexer also loops incoming video into a Pelco CM9500 Coaxitron Matrix switcher, which connects to four 14-inch Pelco color monitors. The microprocessor-based, cross-point video switcher will accommodate up to 208 cameras, 16 monitors, 64 alarms and 32 relay outputs. The system's user-programmable features include a printer interface, drop-down menus for programming presets and other functions, sequences, tours, events, alarm programming and relays.
The Chesterfield system also includes several alarm points associated with cameras. "We've begun to alarm our perimeter doors and mall management offices for off-hours protection," Thompson says.
For this purpose, CIS installed an access control alarm system from Checkpoint Systems Inc., Thorofare, N.J. The door contacts tie into the switcher through a Checkpoint Windows-based control computer. If an unauthorized entry occurs, the alarm goes off in the form of an audio signal at the security station and the location of the door comes up graphically on the computer. At the same time, the alarm feeds into the switcher, which tells a pan-tilt-zoom camera near the door in question to zoom in for a closer look.
At the Macerich Queens Center mall in Queens, N.Y., CIS designed and installed a similar CCTV system with perimeter alarms.
There are important differences based on Queens Center's design. The common area is not large enough to accommodate a security kiosk or information booth. Here, officers monitor the CCTV system from a conventional security office behind the scenes.
Queens Center is larger than Chesterfield and requires 74 cameras to cover the facility. As at Chesterfield, the back corridor cameras are fixed while those watching the common areas and the parking deck have full pan-tilt-zoom capabilities.
The center's six-level parking deck has 12 stairwells, each with CIS-installed emergency call stations. At the call boxes, buttons open direct lines to the security office. CIS also tied the call boxes into a pre-set pan-tilt-zoom camera in the garage area. When someone calls security, a camera zooms to allow officers to assess the situation.
At Macerich's Valley View Mall in Dallas, CIS is installing a system that includes parking lot panic stations. "The stations, which are manufactured by Code Blue Corp., Holland, Mich., include an emergency phone set on a 7-foot-tall blue metal pole," MacDaniel says.
A bright light on top of the pole is visible from across the parking lot. The stations include a strobe light that can be activated at the touch of a button in an emergency.
What's next for macerich security?
Thompson regularly reviews new security ideas and technology. When he finds something that may complement his security philosophy, he gives it a try. If it works as advertised, he upgrades other centers.
For example, Thompson is considering the addition of access control systems for the entrances and offices of his other malls, now that he has proven its usefulness at Chesterfield Towne Center and Queens Center.
Looking to the future, Thompson recently attended a demonstration of a remote CCTV monitoring system at the CIS offices. The Dedicated Micros DVST (digital video storage and transmission) system allows full-frame color or monochrome images to be transmitted across standard telephone lines to a central location where they can be viewed and stored.
The system consists of a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter is at the camera site and the receiver is at the remote monitoring site. The system offers eight- and 16-camera inputs. Video flows into the transmitter from the cameras and loops out into the switching and VCR systems. A separate output ties the transmitter into the phone line.
"With an ISDN line, you can transmit at adequate speeds," says MacDaniel. "It lowers the refresher rate to a second, which is adequate for viewing the video."
CIS recently installed one of these systems in a central post office, which uses it to monitor alarms at branch post offices after hours when no one is available on site. "In the past, the security officers could only see that an alarm had gone off at the site," MacDaniel says. "They would have to drive over to look or call the police."
Thompson sees potential savings in applying this technology to shopping center security. "Instead of having night-shift security officers on a property, an officer at one property can monitor a CCTV system at another property by remote control. When an alarm is activated, they can use the DVST keyboard to operate the pan-tilt-zoom cameras and find out if it's necessary to investigate in person."
The costs for a Dedicated Micros remote monitoring system range from $10,000 to $12,000 to cover an installation with 16 cameras. "At $25,000 to $30,000 per year per employee times 30 malls, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this might be a good deal," Thompson says.
Can malls have too much security?
As the retail industry continues to adapt security technology to the needs of customers and properties, security directors must grapple with questions of how much security is enough and how much is too much. At what point do customers grow uncomfortable and begin to worry that Big Brother is watching?
After the burglary at Cloverleaf Mall in Richmond, reporters looking into the Chesterfield Towne Center security system asked that question of mall management. Management reacted openly, explaining the goals of the security system and allowing reporters complete access to the system. The candid response produced public relations benefits, while helping to promote an important goal of retail security: making customers feel comfortable.
Protecting mall management
The CCTV system at Macerich's Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek, Calif., recently shielded mall management from a potential law suit. A woman claimed that she had slipped and fallen in the center common area, which at Broadway Plaza happens to be outside.
Several days later, her attorney arrived to discuss the matter. The security supervisor produced a CCTV tape of the incident and played it for the attorney. The tape showed the woman and a man planning the fall. They talked, pointed, looked around. The woman then lay down on the ground in different positions in different places. Then the two talked some more. Finally, she staged the fall.
After the attorney watched the tape, he rose slowly from his chair, said thank you, and left.