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How to Recognize and Deal with Suspicious Behaviour in Retail Business Establishments

Methodical acts of crime such as theft, terrorism or kidnapping take several steps of planning and preparation. It is in these initial stages that such acts are most vulnerable to being caught by vigilant security and safety officers, sometimes with the help of the general public.

 

How to recognize suspicious behaviours and circumstances

Criminal-minded individuals (or groups) will try to blend into the crowd and try to be inconspicuous as much as they can. However, keen observation, alertness, and proper training may reveal signs of suspicious behaviour that may be precursors to outright criminal activity. Suspicious behaviours may include:

  • Inappropriate or oversized clothing that can conceal weapons, contrabands or explosives (i.e. a big, bulky coat worn when the temperature is 35 degrees Celsius, shoe laces that suspiciously look like wires or cables)
  • Loitering in a place that is not meant as a concourse or waiting area
  • Walking back and forth repeatedly or entering and exiting a building while trying to avoid the information or concierge desk
  • Looking repeatedly in unusual places or trying to take photographs of seemingly plain or featureless surroundings, like ceilings and walls (with no fancy décor, lights or sign boards), around pillars and corners
  • Scribbling notes onto small pieces of paper repeatedly
  • Asking very detailed security-related questions, like the number and location of security cameras
  • “Maintenance” personnel attempting access at unscheduled times or dates
  • Vehicles parked in inappropriate places (with occupants that do not disembark) or traveling unusually slowly in otherwise traffic-free roadways
  • Persons, especially women or children, who appear as though being forced into a vehicle or through an unusual doorway (like a fire exit)
  • Bags or packages left unattended for a prolonged period of time

Keep in mind that sometimes, these behaviours or circumstances may be little more than a tourist being really lost or a person with really bad fashion sense. However, it pays to be cautious and pro-active, so if you happen upon similar circumstances, do not hesitate to inform the proper authorities.

 

Dealing with Suspicious Behaviour as a By-stander or Observer

The first and most important step in dealing with suspicious behaviour as a by-stander who just happened to be at the right time at the right place is to report such behaviours to the proper authorities. Take note of details such as the number of people involved, their sex, age range, body proportions, clothing and any identifying marks. It is also important to note any equipment or personal effects. Stay out of sight of the potential threat, and do not draw attention to yourself unless you are in obvious and immediate danger.

If the person or persons of interest move out of the area or out of your sight, do not attempt to follow. Also, do not approach the area that was just vacated by the potential perpetrators, especially if a suspicious article or package was left in the area, or if the area was visibly tampered with. Unless you are sufficiently trained (i.e. off-duty police officer, soldier or security agent), do not confront suspicious persons especially when more than one individual is involved.

 

Dealing with Suspicious Behaviour as a Security Officer

Security officers and managers have protocols for dealing with suspicious behaviour, depending on perceived potential threat levels. As a security officer, the most important step in dealing with suspicious behaviour is to recognize the potential threat level and activate the proper protocol. Once the proper protocol is activated, the security officer may try to approach the suspicious person, group or article to further assess the situation.

Situations which are grossly non-threatening (such as an unarmed person taking photographs or scribbling notes) should be approached with a calm, respectful demeanour. The security officer is to properly introduce himself or herself and state the reason why the potential offender is being flagged. Asking a few questions and noting the answers, as well as body language may give clues to the true intentions of such persons of interest.

Most people who genuinely have no ill intentions will not be alarmed with proper handling of the situation, but truly unscrupulous individuals will usually be put on the defensive when approached by security officers (unless they are exceptionally trained at staying calm and saying the “right answers”). If a person of interest reveals himself or herself to be an actual threat, the security officer may attempt to minimize potential harm to people or damage to property until enough help arrives.

If the situation is untenable, the security officer can withdraw to a safer location with the objective of trying to remain aware of the developing situation so that when the cavalry arrives, they can deal with the situation in the most informed and efficient manner.

 

Conclusion

Both shopping centre patrons and professionally-trained security personnel each have distinct capabilities and roles in identifying and dealing with suspicious persons and behaviours. Most of the time, being vigilant and aware of the tell-tale signs of a brewing crime is what it takes to stop criminals on their tracks and prevent terrible consequences to people and properties from happening.

 

Our security officers at Prosek Security are well-trained in spotting and responding to suspicious entities specifically in retail business environments. Contact us to know how our team can help you prevent crimes and other forms of breaches from happening.