Mall of America offers glimpse at security measures following shootings

The Mall of America, like many large corporations and companies, doesn’t often like to talk about its layers of security, figuring the fewer people who know, the better the security works.

But in light of recent shootings, including a murder just before Christmas, their outlook is changing.

"It’s time that we share our story," said Will Bernhjelm, the Mall of America's Vice President of Security. "It’s a unique approach to security, and it’s not being done this broadly anywhere else."

On Friday, Bernhjelm led reporters on a tour highlighting what he explained were the layers of security, which he likened to individual slices of Swiss cheese.

No layer is foolproof, he says, "but with more layers built in, there’s less chance all those holes line up at once."

Outside the mall, security officers on bikes patrol the lots and ramps full-time.

The Bloomington Police, who have a station in the mall, installed license plate readers on every entrance to mall parking.

If there is a stolen car, for example, they’ll know. If there’s a particular vehicle police are looking for, they can find it.

"If the vehicle parks in the ramp, we’ll be able to look up that license plate in the ramp and see exactly where it’s parked," explained Bernhjelm.

There are six K-9 officers working the mall by checking bags or packages left alone and sniffing garbage cans. All of them are trained to detect a long list of explosives.

"Everything from like fireworks, c14, Semtex, black powders," said Lt. Kenny McDonough, the MOA K-9 supervisor. "Two of us are certified person-borne, so actually detecting explosives on people."

They plan to add more K-9s that are trained to smell firearms since it’s not deemed viable to add metal detectors at the mall’s many doors.

"Compare us to a venue like U.S. Bank Stadium," explained Bernhjelm, "they have seven public entrances, we have 27."

The mall has security cameras, some you can clearly see and some that are hidden, and all are watched in a basement command center. Reporters were allowed to see the area, but not photograph it.

There is a training room in the basement which has never before been shown to the media before. Security officers practiced Krav Maga, a martial art developed by the Israeli Defense Forces. New officers must complete four weeks of training in de-escalation, crisis intervention and medical response, which Bernhjelm says is far beyond the industry standard of 40 hours.

Some officers work undercover, trained on "behavior detection" techniques, trying to spot suspicious activity. They also employ a full-time intelligence analyst, who monitors social media.

"And this is a true story, where somebody posted online, hey I’m going to the mall today and I’m going to steal a bunch of jeans. What sizes do people need? He’s proactively seeking that out."

The point of this, as you might suspect, is the Mall of America’s desire to assure shoppers, especially the many who come from out of state, that it is safe.

But a big point of explaining all these security layers is hope at prevention: that explaining this can be a deterrence, which is itself just another layer.