Suspicious Activity and Situational Awareness

Protus3Security Program Development, Workplace Violence


An article published on the website of National Public Radio (NPR) addressed the security programs in place at the Mall of America and the actions of security officers. The full article can be found here, and we leave it to the reader to determine if the actions of the officers were appropriate in the specific situations mentioned.

The events of September 11 as well as other large scale acts of violence have changed the rules, and that brings a heightened sensitivity and awareness of what is “suspicious” and what is not. Heightened levels of security and security awareness can cause disruptions in people’s lives, however, it will also prevent crime, and in some cases, acts of terrorism.

The individual filming throughout the mall was acting suspiciously. Security is the protection of assets from the intentional actions of people. Security officers are one of many tools put in place to protect a company’s assets from harm. It is their job to be aware of anything that may cause harm to those assets and to deter, detect, or defend those assets from harm. People cause security events, so if an officer observes strange or odd behavior, it is their responsibility to investigate. If an officer sees a man in a long coat on a hot day, the officer could assume that the individual is simply making a fashion statement. If the individual is looking around nervously, maybe he just does not like crowds. If he puts his hands inside his coat, maybe he is reaching for his wallet or his cell phone. When he pulls something out from inside his coat, maybe it’s just a toy water gun. Should a security officer wait for actual gunfire before he or she investigates?

Security officers as well as the general public should be aware of suspicious behavior, just as people should be aware of their surroundings when walking to their car at night or leaving the bank with a large amount of cash. Someone filming children in a play area who does not appear to be a parent or guardian is suspicious. Someone filming people entering or leaving a restroom or dressing room is suspicious. Someone filming the actions of a subject who seems unaware of their presence is suspicious. Being aware of individuals acting suspiciously helps to prevent criminal activity, domestic or workplace violence, and other threats to the safety and security of people and property, not just terrorism.

In the situations reported by NPR, security officers apparently have been trained to observe suspicious activity and report it up the chain of command. The next step was to stop the suspicious individual and talk to them about the situation. At that point, they found it reasonable to contact law enforcement. Only then did law enforcement make the decision to detain the individual to obtain more information about the situation.

These particular incidents turned out to be harmless, but how many other incidents have been prevented because someone noticed something out of the ordinary and acted upon it? How many other acts of violence could have been prevented if someone had been able to see red flags and report them to an appropriate authority with the ability to respond? Were there red flags before Virginia Tech, Tucson, Fort Hood, and Carthage, NC? Were they reported to an authority with the ability to evaluate the situation and respond if needed?

The “authority”, in this case security officers and mall management, has the right, responsibility, and duty to respond. If they do not respond, they face potential harm to visitors, employees, and/or property. In some situations, they may even face lawsuits from victims or their estates after an incident. Based on the behavior of the security officers portrayed in the article, could they have been more polite when investigating? Probably. Should they treat all suspicious individuals with respect? Certainly. Although they may need to have additional training on their “customer service” skills, the security officers at the Mall of America had the correct response in all of these incidents.


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Protus3 specializes in security system design, security consulting, corporate investigations and other investigative services. Partner with Protus3 and we will examine each situation to identify threats and develop solutions for your best outcome.

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