Securing one million shoppers for the holidays

Security is tight - and state of the art - at the Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento this holiday season.

Like all malls in the United States, the Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento is being overrun with shoppers as the holiday season kicks into high gear.

Arden Fair is a 77-acre property and has 10 million annual shoppers. On an average day, the mall hosts between 20,00-40,000 shoppers. But during the holiday season, they will host about 1 million.

The property is sandwiched between a high-crime area to the west, and a more affluent area to the east, presenting significant security challenges for former Sacramento Police Officer Steve Reed, who is head of security for Arden Fair.

Under Reed's leadership, Arden Fair upgraded from a VHS-based surveillance system to high-definition cameras in 2006. Exterior security also now includes license plate readers on some staff vehicles to monitor activity in parking lots. The mall is the only private security group in the nation with wireless access to the Department of Justice database of 220,000 stolen license plates.

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As Reed recently detailed for CSO, watching over and preparing for the holiday shopping season begins long before the weather even begins to turn cold.

CSO: You've been head of security for Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento for 13 years. Tell me about the property. Are there any characteristics about the mall that make it uniquely challenging to secure?

Steve Reed: Arden Fair has over 10 million guests annually. From Black Friday to December 31 alone we have over 1 million customers. We are bordered by an interstate freeway, which provides easy access, and escape, for would be criminals. We have a light rail transit system, which drops of customers at and near our location. This system runs through some areas that have high crime incidents. This is a diverse mall, and some of the area to the west has a high incidence of crime.

When do you start making security preparations for the holiday season?

I begin planning for the holiday season at Arden Fair towards the end of July. There are many contracts and schedules I have to prepare to ensure a smooth season. We contract with a large tour bus company, which transports customers and merchant employees from the parking lot at nearby Cal Expo. We run over 1600 hours of busing for the holiday season, which frees up parking places for our customers.

We hire an experienced traffic control company to ensure the smooth flow of traffic on the property. I hire off duty police officers from the Sacramento Police Department to assist my security team during the season. They will provide over 700 hours of policing on the property.

This year we conducted a tabletop exercise with CalEMA in regards to crisis management.

There are many communications, which include schedules and other information we have to prepare for our merchants. I also work with the City of Sacramento on signage throughout the surrounding area and changing the sequence of traffic signals to alleviate any traffic issues. All these things take several months to finalize.

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You migrated from a VHS-based surveillance system to high-definition cameras with a DVR-based system in 2006. What does security look like now -- both on the exterior of the building, as well as inside the building?

We have gone exclusively to Avigilon cameras. We have 2-, 5-, 8-, 16- and 29-megapixel cameras throughout the property. We currently have 5 servers and will be adding a 6th. This should give us about 115 terabytes (of video storage).

The exterior of our building has 16- and 29-megapixel HD cameras with plans to add 9-8 megapixel HD cameras after the first of the year. Our 16-megapixel cameras are at all of our intersections, so we can capture all plates arriving and leaving the property. Our 29-megapixel cameras are used to cover our parking lots where we need deeper coverage.

The exterior system is supplemented by vehicle, bike, Segway and foot patrol. We also have off-duty PD patrolling our lots. Our security vehicles are equipped with Vigilant License Plate Readers. As they patrol the lots they capture plates and tell us if a vehicle is stolen.

Because of our unique partnership with Sacramento PD, we have a direct link to the stolen vehicle database. To date we have recovered 67 stolen vehicles in three years, with 51 arrests. I found that about 70 percent of those arrested are involved in other thefts or crimes in the mall.

Inside the mall we use the Avigilon 2- and 5-megapixel cameras. They cover back corridors, common area and escalators. They not only capture potential criminal incidents but also preclude liability issues from slip and falls, etc.

You've been using and adding to this system now for almost seven years. Have you seen a decrease in crime-related incidents? What specifically has changed?

We have seen a dramatic decrease in incidence of crime since our installation of the cameras. The cameras are high-definition, user friendly and no pixilation when retrieving and downloading footage. One example is our reduction in auto thefts. Sacramento was in the top ten cities in California for auto thefts. In 2006, prior to their installation and our addition of the License Plate Readers, we had 77 auto thefts. Last year, in 2011, we had only seven - and we were able to help PD arrest four of those because of our surveillance system and downloading capabilities.

Our crime in other seasons has also been reduced dramatically -- an accomplishment I am proud of when you have 10 million customers annually.

This story, "Securing one million shoppers for the holidays" was originally published by CSO.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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