Alexander Otto, CEO of ECE. Image: ECE
Opinion

The security dilemma

The shopping center industry has a problem: the security of its customers. No, it’s not that centers have a security issue. Nevertheless, in these times of terror and armed attacks, it is difficult to balance an easygoing and unhindered shopping experience with the best-possible security for our customers.

BY ALEXANDER OTTO

The present security situation in Western Europe is different to the one five years ago. Though the probability of a major attack is still extremely low, we have experienced a new type of terror in our societies. In the end, concrete bollards, security checkpoints, and security guards cannot repel an attack with automatic weapons or terrorists wearing bomb vests.

Above all, our society is different. It is open and free. People do not want to live and shop in an area swarming with armed security guards and checkpoints. This would cause a climate of fear and this is exactly what these terrorists want. We certainly need and want to respond to critical security situations and increase visible security measures on occasion in consultation with local law enforcement agencies.

But this should not be an everyday situation. After all, we should consider this: Why should a shopping center be considered different to a main shopping street, a pedestrian zone, train stations, or bus stops? If there were security checkpoints at the entrances of shopping centers, people would assume there was a security problem and many of them would stay away and go to places with less security.

Of course, we cannot just brush away the security discussion with this argument—on the contrary! We have to work hard behind the scenes to have the best-possible security policy in place to prevent and respond to threats to our customers. Therefore, the popular argument that center operators would not invest in more security checks or security guards in an attempt to save money is just plain wrong.

There are security guards employed at our centers and their numbers are increased in perilous situations or in times of high footfall. Regular training for our center staff and the staff of our tenants is key. The policy documents regarding different threat scenarios are updated regularly and local law enforcement agencies review them and suggest improvements. It goes without saying that we conduct annual evacuation drills at our centers and maintain a close relationship with local police.

CCTV has become essential for investigating minor and major crimes. It can also provide valuable information to law enforcement agencies and help them assess the situation in case of a terrorist attack or a shooting spree. Video surveillance is therefore an important element of shopping center security.

In Germany, traditionally, the protection of personal information takes priority over a superior right of law enforcement agencies to access it. CCTV is thus generally not permitted by law at malls and their entrances and exits. In my view, this law needs to be changed. If we ensure that the footage is deleted after a short time and if it is allowed to be viewed only by center management, center security, and law enforcement agencies in case of an incident, the personal rights of our customers remain protected. Furthermore, video surveillance will increase our customers’ feeling of security and prevent crime from happening through deterrence, because it makes catching perpetrators more likely.

I am delighted that the shopping center industry in Europe is acting in concert with regard to security issues and promoting industry-wide standards. Most of all, I hope that we will be spared any further terrible events in the future.

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