Shopping malls are regularly subjected to armed robberies. In response to this, mall management frequently implement various procedures they claim will counter the threat of such robberies. What they have essentially done, is exploit our misunderstanding of security fundamentals to implement the most cost-effective illusion of actually doing something. This is called security theatre. And it is a lie.
Stop-and-search is security theatre
The management of a well-known shopping centre implement a robust stop-and-search policy to counter the threat of armed robbery. What is the threat aspect they are talking about? The threat in this case, is the capability and the intent of armed robbers to commit armed robberies. So, in essence this is Security Theatre Part One; no shopping centre can actually mitigate against the threat. No matter what they do, they cannot directly disrupt the fact that armed robbery gangs exist. Nor can they disrupt those groups’ capabilities to commit such crimes.
Such threat mitigation is a police function. And it is well outside of the scope of any facilities-orientated security team. The only manner in which shopping centres can mitigate the threat, is by cooperating with each other via the implementation of programs which improve policing infrastructure to counter this threat.
Malls are misidentifying robbery risk-drivers
The actual concept that these entities are looking at managing, is the risk of armed robbery. In other words, the probability that the armed robbery threat will impact a business within their facility. In order to do that, they need to identify the risk-drivers. These are the causal factors which influence the probability either upwards or downwards. Failing to recognise and apply such a strategy, is the same as treating a disease purely for its symptoms instead of preventing it.
Now that we understand these key concepts, let’s look at the risk-drivers first. Then we can scrutinise the security theatre presented to us, and decide for ourselves if the tail is wagging the dog. Armed robbers want cash or high-value goods. We can agree upon that. These goods need to be easily-transportable and be easily liquidated.
What drives the risk of armed robbery?
So, risk-driver number one is the presence of cash or high-value goods. There are some really great and innovative concepts which seek to mitigate this. Granted, not all of them are practically implementable in the South African context. But to decrease the amount of physical cash on premises would significantly dent the risk of suffering armed robbery. Alternatively, improving your cash management capabilities (like casino’s with centralised cash drops, smart cards, and similar processes) have quite effectively minimised the overall threat of armed robberies.
Secondly, the spatial arrangement of shopping centres often situates cash-intensive or high-value assets in a manner which increases risk. With some clever intuitive design, shopping centres can impact the risk without impinging upon the experience of the shoppers.
The third risk-driver for increasing the probability of armed robbery, is poor management and a misunderstanding of liability. By implementing pointless security measures you not only demoralise your physical security personnel; you create cases where interaction between security personnel and impacted shoppers causes friction. This in turn causes conflict. Conflict further detracts from the capability of providing security, or creates the requirement to implement ill thought-through policies. Thus, conflict causes distractions which ultimately decrease security.
Yes – there are real solutions
Think about this – a shopping centre wants to create a pleasant shopping experience. Thus creating conflict is not conducive to that. Should a shopping centre decide to utilise a more professional security capability (by increasing their behind the scenes capacity), and using less-intrusive technology (which are supportive of the other risk mitigation measures), then they can decrease their reliance on stop-and-search tactics. And any other outmoded and frankly ineffective deterrent measures.
Security theatre is a scam
So, if we can agree that the risk-drivers for armed robberies are the presence of cash, an environment in which robbers have easy access, and a security program which is poorly managed, then how does the security theatre illusion currently sold not work?
- Stop-and-search stations. These purely exist to sell the lie. The mathematical chances of these routine-bound counter-measures actually interdicting an armed robbery without prior intelligence are slim. And the capability of these measures in dealing with the robbers are nonexistent.
- Banning caps and sunglasses. Criminals wear caps and sunglasses to defeat CCTV. CCTV is an investigative aid to help identify criminals after the robbery has occurred. So selling that as a preventative measure is another lie. Of far greater value would be biometric capture measures at bank doors, eye-level CCTV, and the capability of applying covert or low-profile incident identification and interdiction teams to enhance the already-discussed measures. These constitute actual preventative measures, not security theatre.
- Banning law-abiding firearm owners. This is pure unconstitutional discrimination. The reality is that law-abiding firearm owners have never used their licensed firearms to commit an armed robbery at a shopping mall. Because this person has that specific firearm linked to him or her through an exhaustive process, it would be stupid to use it for committing crime. Aside from that, they are people who the authorities have subjected to a whole battery of process measures. The police have taken their fingerprints and vetted them. And they constitute the most law-abiding identifiable statistical segment of society. Also, when carrying their firearms as dictated by the FCA, they will stand right next to you or I and we will never know it. The other fear, often quoted by journalists and mall managers, is that they are afraid that law-abiding firearm owners will engage with armed robbers in a firefight. They conveniently ignore the fact that the only times when this has happened, hundreds of lives were saved as a result.
In essence, when we look at the concept of security theatre, we see that malls are simply trying to live through the news cycle. And they spend as little money as possible whilst selling you and me, the general public, a complete and utter lie. Oh, how blindly we trust.
Written by Bryan Mennie
Bryan Mennie has extensive policing, security, and contracting experience. He is currently an Incident Management Professional for a Fortune 50 company.