Homeland Security and Public Safety

Behavior Profiling Redefines Security at the Mall of America

After 9/11, the Mall of America sought to increase its security but conventional approaches weren’t deemed the best method for the popular tourist attraction.

After 9/11, the owners of the Mall of America handed the facility’s security director a blank check. They wanted the mall to be outfitted with cameras and metal detectors, but Security Director Doug Reynolds didn’t think that was the right solution. While the tech tools would aid security efforts, Reynolds didn’t think they were the best fit for the unique facility that he is charged to protect.

The term “mall” doesn’t provide a complete picture of the Mall of America. Located near Minneapolis in Bloomington, Minn., the facility is visited by 40 million people annually and spans 4.2 million square feet. Not only does it house the stores one would expect to find in a shopping mall, but it also features the United States’ largest indoor theme park complete with roller coasters, an aquarium and a movie theater. In addition, a hotel is scheduled to open early this year. All of these attractions combine to create an extraordinary environment for a security department.

Reynolds surveyed different security methods and industry standards, but none of the conventional approaches in the United States seemed to be the best fit for the Mall of America. “We thought cameras were good but they were missing an element, which ended up being the human element,” he said.

Looking to Israeli security methods, Reynolds learned about how behavioral profiling is used in the country, especially at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. He attended training in Israel to better understand how the technique is used and how security officials there have improved it.

“Most people think that behavioral profiling started in Israel but it did not; it actually started in the U.S. through the FBI to do different types of profiling for crimes, such as serial killers, sexual predators, that kind of thing,” Reynolds said. “The Israelis — when they were looking for best practices — found the FBI doing it, and they took it on and honed the skills and perfected the science behind it.”

Expanding Practice

When the Mall of America began its behavior profiling program about five years ago, it was breaking new security ground in the U.S. “When you step outside of what society is used to, there is always risk, and we told folks ... that there are going to be people who don’t know what the program is about,” said Security Director Doug Reynolds.

The risk seems to have paid off. Behavioral profiling is being embraced by other U.S. security officials, and Michael Rozin is using his experiences from helping launch the mall’s program and being a security agent for Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv where the method is used.

For example, the security director for the Greenway Plaza business complex in Houston adopted the program about a year and a half ago. It’s also being expanded into school systems.

Timothy Kingsley, associate vice president of operations and government affairs for American Security and Investigations, said a good job has been done in academic environments to identify students who may be experiencing a crisis, but an appropriate system must be in place to identify key indicators of a possible future event.

“We have had an unprecedented amount of events in the last decade surrounding active shooters and what I call catastrophic crimes in the workplace,” Kingsley said. “I think it’s time that we really start not looking for the weapon — of course always look for those things — but let’s look for the common denominator. Human beings have similar behaviors.”

American Security and Investigations is in the early stages of rolling out the program in a Minnesota school district. He said key staff members in the company are being trained first, but eventually it could be a districtwide awareness campaign and not limited to security personnel. Kingsley said the company also is looking to use behavior profiling in other environments, including hospitals and commercial real estate.

A former Israeli Airports Authority security agent, Michael Rozin, was brought onto the Mall of America’s security team to help adopt the country’s behavioral profiling principles to the public environment at the U.S. facility. Rozin and Reynolds worked to create the mall’s Risk Assessment and Mitigation (RAM) program, which instead of relying on technology to help identify a potential security risk, uses trained officers who look for behavior that isn’t considered normal in the mall’s setting.

The Mall of America’s security department consists of about 150 people with the lion’s share constituting what most people consider typical security. RAM personnel make up a small percentage of the department’s staff, Reynolds said, but all security personnel are exposed to the program and its concepts. “A handful are given the additional 10 to 12 weeks of training in it,” he said.

The RAM officers work in what Reynolds described as “visually undercover” — they wear plain clothes and ear pieces, but visitors can spot the officers if they’re looking for them.

“We want people to see them. We want them to know they’re out there,” Reynolds said. “If it’s a person with harmful intentions then they think that this thing, I don’t know what it is or how big it is, but it’s there, it’s a factor and this is not the place to commit the crime.”

Although the behavior profiling program was adapted to fit the Mall of America’s environment, it uses the same three components as Ben Gurion airport: detecting suspicious indicators, security interviewing (which Rozin said is the most important) and operational deployment.

Elaine Pittman  |  Managing Editor

Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Elaine joined Emergency Management in 2008, and she can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.