When it comes to providing security for its tenants and shoppers, Baltimore's Security Square Mall decided to put its resources in plain sight. And in doing so, the more than 1 million-sq.-ft. regional mall always has security staff members available.

After visiting anchors such as Old Navy, Burlington Coat Factory, Hecht's, Sears, Wards, and JCPenny Outlet Store, consumers are sure to stroll by a glass-enclosed station at center court. There they can see the main monitoring station for the center's state-of-the-art digital CCTV system, which flashes images on the screen from throughout the common areas of Security Square Mall. Elsewhere they'll see officers making routine rounds, either on foot or as part of bike patrols.

When new mall management, Security Square Associates, took over in 1997, it realized the center had an image problem among many of its customers.

“Typically with older malls you'll see people have the perception that the malls are not safe because they're not new,” explains Deirdre Moore, vice president and general manager. “We wanted to take that perception and nip it in the bud. There had been security problems back in the 1980s. Those issues had been solved, but people tend to remember the bad. So we had to replace that thought with a new one.”

One way of doing that was to make security more visible. While most centers keep their security offices out of sight, focus group research told Security Square managers that putting it out front made shoppers feel more secure.

“We asked the focus groups and they said ‘we would rather see it,’” explains Moore. “‘We would not assume there was a problem. We would assume there was caring management.’ We said the customer has spoken.”

The mall began by installing a Philips System 4 CCTV system that includes 34 cameras that route images back to a digital system. Unlike conventional tape monitors, the new system allows security to more quickly access images.

“It's much faster to review the digital recordings,” according to Security Manager Paul Martin. “We also have three different computers that the files can be brought up on and reviewed or monitored. The pictures are sharper than the tapes, which you have to rewind and then try to find the spot you're looking for. With the digital system, as you type in the date and time, it goes to it.”

Martin, a retired Baltimore County Police Department veteran, also decided to make his officers more visible by changing their uniforms from burgundy blazers to police-like outfits that allowed shoppers to more readily identify them.

Each officer also carries a Morse Watchman handheld device with which they scan stations at set locations as they make their rounds. At each point — in addition to entering the time they were there — they can make a record of problems such as spills, graffiti or trash that needs attention. The information can be downloaded to a computer and then printed for review.

Security Square also upgraded the quality of its security officers by seeking out retired police officers who wanted to remain active. “These are people who are experienced and have good judgment,” says Moore. “They know how to react to everything from lost children to a fire in the landscaping beds to shoplifting.”

In addition, mall management also sought out younger people who were planning a career in law enforcement. By coming on board at Security Square, they gained experience that helped make them stronger candidates when applying to a police department.

“It ended up almost being a mentoring program between those more experienced, retired police officers, and the younger people who wanted to be police officers,” explains Moore. Those who were retired took the newcomers under their wing to point them in the right direction with a realistic view on law enforcement and community policing.

Martin also reached out into the community by getting the mall actively involved in the Baltimore County Police and Private Security Group. “This involvement helps us through the exchange of information, what's going on in different malls, crime trends, and who to look out for,” he says. “Quite often the people who prey on customers may go from one mall to another.”

Security Square management believes they have taken the right path by keeping security up front and personal. In fact, a recent focus group follow-up found that shoppers agreed visible security was indeed one of the things they liked best about the mall.

Randy Southerland is an Atlanta-based writer.