Work & Career
13 Things Mall Cops Won’t Tell You
The job of a mall cop is a lot more complex than you may have thought. Here’s what they wish you knew.
Don’t call us a mall cop
No offense to Paul Blart, but we actually hate the term mall cop. We prefer security officer, and frankly, we’re tired of movies portraying us as clueless bums who always doze off on the job. Remember, we’re often the first responders to shootings, kidnappings, fires, and other emergencies. (This is what your mall salesperson isn’t telling you.)
This is a dangerous job
Every year, 50 to 100 American security officers are killed on duty. In 2015, nearly two thirds of those deaths were the result of assaults or other violent acts. (Here’s an easy way you can burn calories in the mall.)
We aren’t as powerful as police officers
Still, we have far less power than police officers. Most of us can’t arrest you, for example. We can detain you, but only if we witness you committing a misdemeanor or have hard proof you committed a felony. This is what police officers want you to know.
Sometimes we let shoplifters walk
Many mall owners won’t let us stop or search a customer unless we witness the crime. That’s partly because of the need for probable cause, but it’s also because they don’t want us to create a scene. These are the dumbest criminals of all time.
Ask us questions
Extreme cases aside, on most days, we’re more concierges than cops. Customer service is a big part of the job, so go ahead and ask us where the food court is.
Got car trouble?
We can probably help you jump a dead battery or fix a flat. We can also drive you around or check surveillance video of the parking lot if you can’t find your car. One time, my supervisor even drove a stranded customer home. No tip necessary—or even allowed, most of the time.
Don’t leave things on your car seat
When we investigate a parking lot break-in, nine times out of ten the customer left something out on the seat, be it a purse, a tablet, or high-end shopping bags. If you don’t want your car broken into, don’t leave valuables out in plain view; thieves troll parking lots looking inside cars for goodies to grab.
Keep track of your kid
We spend a lot of time dealing with lost kids. Don’t send children under eight to get things from another part of the store or mall. They get distracted (and lost) easily.
Teach your kids to find us
Pro tip: Assure your kids that you’d never go to your car without them. You don’t want them to leave the mall and search for you in the parking lot. Teach your kids to ask an employee wearing a name tag if they need help finding you.
You wouldn’t believe what goes on in dressing rooms
We deal with people going to the bathroom or having sex. One time a guy walked in dressed in men’s clothing and left wearing a wig and a dress; under the dress, he had on several layers of stolen clothes.
Not all mall cops are created equal
While many of us are ex-military or retired police officers, 22 states have no training requirements for unarmed security guards, according to a Pew analysis. Some guards get as much as 48 hours of training; others get half that or less. “My training consisted of ‘Read this and sign it,’” one guard says.
Some of us are hired just to be eye candy
Having a uniformed person on the property deters crime and makes shoppers feel safer. But it might also give the mall owner a break on insurance costs.
We may kick you out if your shorts are too short
Some malls prohibit outfits that are too revealing or contain curse words or gang-related symbols. Before you argue, remember that we don’t write the rules—we just enforce them.