Just the UK’s largest shopping centres alone attract hundreds of millions of visitors per year, some of which will even attract almost a million visitors in a single week.

With so many people visiting shopping centres, there is clearly a massive potential for things to go wrong, hence it is important that steps are taken to make shopping centres a safe and secure environment for customers, visitors and employees at the same time. The best way to do so is with dedicated security professionals who are trained to handle a variety of potential situations that may arise within this unique environment.

The type of risks, threats and challenges faced by those professionals can vary considerably and range from terrorism, assaults and abduction, theft, medical emergencies and first aid, fire and engineering hazards, the presence of hypodermic needles in toilets and anti-social behaviour, to name but a few.

Knife attacks and other types of violence within shopping centres have made headlines in recent years. Some of us may well remember the Arndale Shopping Centre attack on 11 October 2019, where a man injured 5 people with a knife. He was detained under the Mental Health Act.

You might also remember the killing of a woman at the Dockside Shopping Centre back in June 2017. It was made public that she suffered at least 75 wounds to her neck alone.  The woman, in her 20’s, screamed and honked a car horn in a desperate cry for help after her ex-partner reportedly slit her throat.

Some may also remember the horrific attack, which saw a knifeman stabbing a woman to death and wounding seven others in rampage at a Polish shopping mall on 20 October 2017. The man, who the police believe was mentally unwell, entered Vivo shopping centre and started stabbing people in the back.

Australia also had its fair share of shopping centre attacks in recent years. 2021 alone has presented us with many sad headlines in the new, such as:

  • ”Security guard fights off alleged knife attack in terrifying Gold Coast shopping centre attack”
  • “Man charged after attacking a security guard, police officers and members of the public”
  • “Shopper and security guard stabbed at a Brunswick shopping centre”

The New York Post also reported in 2021: “Police beef up security at malls, shopping centres outside DC following ISIS threat”.

A new type of growing crime here in the UK has made recent headlines within a shopping centre recently, when an ‘acid attack’ on women during a mass brawl at a shopping centre occurred. Two women were taken to hospital after a suspected acid attack at Essex’s Lakeside Shopping Centre, a venue visited by 25 million people per year. The security professionals operational that day will have had their work cut out. Controlling, helping, directing and evacuating thousands of people swiftly and safely can be a real challenge at times.

Other problems faced by these security professionals are engaging with drug addicts and the risk of being confronted by hypodermic needles. One incident occurred very recently at Castle Court Shopping Centre in Belfast when a mother of a young daughter found several drug needles on the toilet floor.

Although previous terrorist plots in the UK have focussed on shopping centres (e.g. Bluewater and the Trafford Centre), my article will not go any further into the realistic risks of terrorism in this type of environment.  My firm’s Technical Director Colin Mackinnon (26+ years in Police, Counter Terrorism, Surveillance and Firearms) know a few things about this subject matter and when I ask him for his thoughts, he said:

    “Terrorists are of course interested in creating the most harm in a space to bring about a ‘spectacular’, an atrocity of destruction, violence, and death. Shopping centres, where literally thousands of people pour through the doors daily are a perfect target for a ‘spectacular’. Lock down procedures in shopping centres have become the norm and I am pleased to say that I have attended many meetings where Senior Management Teams are taking these threats very seriously and protecting their staff with the correct equipment along with the updated training. Unfortunately, I also still attend meetings where, cost and an attitude of “we will wait for an incident to happen” takes precedence over staff safety. This is astounding considering the type of attacks we have witnessed, and the security level currently afforded to the UK.”

I am most certain we all believe those men and women responsible for the security of millions of people walking into these shopping centres have the right to be equipped appropriately in order to do their job safely.  Their own personal safety and security cannot be overlooked, and some of the risks and threats they deal with are highlighted above and cannot be underestimated.

The security operation of a major shopping centre can indeed be highly complex. Ensuring the safety of all members of the public in a shopping centres is a major challenge and it requires dedicated professionals.

What can be done to aid the safety and security of those professionals?

The most common systems being implemented by shopping centres are video surveillance, body worn video cameras, lone worker safety/management technology, automatic number-plate recognition cameras (ANPR) and regular conflict management training for frontline staff, as well as ‘zero violence policies’, improved communication and better reporting procedures.

Based on recent enquiries at our end and in light of the potential for physical confrontations, several shopping centre security teams have now rightly decided to review their risk assessments and concluded their teams must also be issued with stab resistant body armour.

Over the past few years, I have personally advised many senior officials within shopping centres of the importance of customer’s ‘perception’. Many have echoed that some type of overtly worn stab resistant vest designs can at times be perceived as ‘confrontational’, ‘aggressive’, paramilitary’ and ‘hard security’, something some shopping centres might well be opposed to. Please allow me to assure you that latest design technology allows us to ensure that it doesn’t need to be the case.

Stab resistant body armour are a safety net. They are not making you invincible and neither are they a free pass for acting like RoboCop or Rambo.  Nevertheless, they are a safety net, just like a seat belt in your car.  You may never need it, but one day, (and absolutely regardless of your advanced driving skills, experience and level of awareness) it only takes another idiot to play on his phone, loose concentration, fall asleep, being drunk or suicidal and crash into your car.  That’s the moment when you will be most grateful that you have been given this seat belt.

Robert Kaiser, CEO & Founder 

PPSS Group