Business & Real Estate

Soon-to-retire Arden Fair security chief beefed up surveillance, safety features

Steve Reed, who’s retiring Jan. 2 as Arden Fair’s security chief, keeps a watchful eye while walking the mall earlier this month. He’s a Vietnam War veteran with a diverse background, teaching English and history to junior-high kids in the San Juan school district, then becoming a Sacramento police officer for 18 years. Now he’s finishing up 15 years at Arden Fair mall.
Steve Reed, who’s retiring Jan. 2 as Arden Fair’s security chief, keeps a watchful eye while walking the mall earlier this month. He’s a Vietnam War veteran with a diverse background, teaching English and history to junior-high kids in the San Juan school district, then becoming a Sacramento police officer for 18 years. Now he’s finishing up 15 years at Arden Fair mall. The Sacramento Bee

Steve Reed is not your typical mall cop.

Sure, he was a Sacramento police officer for 18 years, one of the city’s select officers who had his share of headline-making cases. He also spent a couple of years as a U.S. Army officer in Vietnam, then a long stint teaching English and history to middle-school students in the San Juan Unified School District. In fact, he was teaching back in 2000 when a job opening popped up for Arden Fair mall’s security chief.

Fifteen years later, on Jan. 2, this latest chapter in Reed’s professional life will come to a close. At 68, he’s put in retirement notice at Arden Fair and is getting ready to hang up his security chief’s badge.

Stocky, energetic and intense, Reed comes off as a bit of a bulldog at first impression, but he quickly becomes misty-eyed when contemplating retirement and recalling the many friends made at Arden Fair, in the military and at the Sacramento Police Department.

“It’s going to be a big adjustment for me,” Reed concedes. “I try to not to think too much about it, because I get a little emotional when I do.”

Over the past 15 years, Reed has overseen the build-up of Arden Fair’s security program, now regarded as a national model for large shopping complexes. When Reed came aboard in 2000, the sprawling 77-acre Arden Fair complex had only 19 security cameras. Crime was a problem, from minor shoplifting to teens looking for trouble. Reed said there was virtually no communication between mall security and local media.

“It was a very challenging environment, and back then, we really weren’t getting the word out to the public about the things we wanted to do, and why,” Reed recalled. “…Let’s just say the first six years were very tough for me.”

Reed said he “had to learn to change hats,” from the familiar role of proactive policeman to managing a security team that could detect trouble but then turn over enforcement to police. He proceeded to dig in, doing everything from designing badges and patches for his mall officers – don’t call them security guards, he says – to seeking grants and other funding to build up security systems.

Today, Reed oversees a staff of 27, including an officer who once did duty at Rikers Island, New York City’s main prison complex. A generation ago, Reed – one of Sacramento’s problem-oriented policing or POP officers – had his own share of high-profile police work, including high-value drug busts, closing a drug-ridden Auburn Boulevard hotel and, in 1992, rescuing an abandoned infant he found lying in a filthy garage during an investigation.

But previous law enforcement experience is not necessarily a top priority in hiring for Reed, who often scopes out prospective employees working at mall stores: “Having people skills is very important. I’ll talk with some of them and watch them for a while, and then ask, ‘Have you ever thought about a career in security?’”

Reed’s security staff is affiliated with AlliedBarton Security Services, a national security firm that provides training, equipment and other services nationwide.

As the mall’s security chief, he’s nurtured the careers of many former mall officers, who went on to jobs in professional law enforcement.

Today, virtually every inch of the mall is covered, inside and out, with monitoring equipment: about $2 million invested in 224 cameras, many of them state-of-the-art, high-definition cameras that can be monitored from computer screens at multiple locations. Real-time video images can be called up in a snap. By maneuvering a mouse, staff can make a camera laser in on a license plate or a suspiciously bulging coat pocket. Another 42 cameras are due to be installed next year.

Outside in the parking lots, two perpetually roving security vehicles have roof-mounted cameras focused on license plates. An in-vehicle computer is programmed to red-flag plates of stolen cars. If a plate is flagged, Arden Fair officers are trained to move away from the suspect vehicle and contact police.

Once they arrive, the mall can use video footage to retrace the steps of the suspect car’s driver since that person left the vehicle, enabling police to close in. In five years, Reed said the “plate readers” have recovered 117 stolen vehicles, leading to 93 arrests.

When he advocated the automated plate-reading system in 2009, it was not universally welcomed. Critics claimed it was an invasion of privacy. Reed said he worked hard to “get the word out that we’re not interested in getting private information… We wanted to keep (mall visitors) safe and prevent other crimes, such as shoplifting.”

Also drawing criticism was the mall’s November 2009 move to ban the wearing of hooded sweatshirts, or “hoodies,” in a way that hid the wearer’s face. Reed said that was designed to negate crimes committed by individuals hiding their faces from security cameras. Critics called it an over-the-top intrusion into privacy.

Reed persisted.

“It wasn’t like we were singling out anybody,” Reed said. “We politely asked them to take (the hoods) off their heads, and that applied to everybody. It could have been a nice, little old lady, but we had to have 100 percent compliance to make it fair.”

Other security initiatives advocated by Reed have been more readily accepted.

Two years ago, Arden Fair started handing out snap-on wristbands to parents, who can mark them with their mobile phone number, enabling security staff to easily reunite lost children.

Reed locked onto the idea after seeing a wristband program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. At Arden Fair, it yielded a bonus: “Kids love the wristbands and wear them everywhere,” Reed said.

Reed stresses that security improvements at Arden Fair could not have been implemented without support of management. He credits Mark Friedman, whose family controls Arden Fair mall, for investing millions in security cameras and other equipment.

“No place has all the stuff we have, and it’s because of the ownership,” Reed said. “The Friedman family has been so helpful. They believed in what we’re doing and invested in it.”

As he prepares to leave his Arden Fair duties, Reed notes that the mall has become more of a social destination over the years, a place where teens gather to meet and eat, and a prime destination for older adults who want to rack up walking miles.

Will he miss Black Fridays?

Not much – although in recent years, Reed says, Thanksgiving Day store openings have actually diluted the frantic Black Friday crowds of years past, spreading the hordes of bargain-hunting shoppers over several days.

Reed said the last month’s Black Friday protests at Arden Fair by activists angered by developments in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., gave him “some sleepless nights.” But he added: “We also recognize that people are exercising their First Amendment right of free speech.”

As a Vietnam War vet, Reed said one of his most memorable moments at Arden Fair occurred this year during the Memorial Day weekend, when a 50-foot flagpole honoring men and women who were wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. military was dedicated at the mall’s main entrance.

“I’m fiercely patriotic,” he said. “That was a special day, very emotional for me.”

Among Reed’s retirement plans is to continue volunteering with former military personnel, particularly wounded warriors.

Those who worked with Reed say the mall benefited from his presence.

Tod Strain, who oversees Arden Fair operations for Santa Monica-based property manager Macerich, has worked with Reed for eight years and said in an email that the security chief’s “forward thinking, innovation and service to the mall and greater community have been recognized by local leaders and the shopping center industry. Steve’s commitment to his work has benefited those around him and has helped to make Arden Fair a great place to be.”

Former Arden Fair manager Chris Facas, who is now senior vice president of property management at Macerich, noted that he and Reed “started at Arden Fair on the same day” and worked together for four years.

From the beginning, Facas said, Reed “set out to build the best security team in the business as well as to innovate new and better ways to keep Arden Fair customers and employees safe and secure … I am quite sure Steve and his team achieved much more than he ever thought possible.”

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

A mall cop’s life

Steve Reed, 68, is stepping down Jan. 2 as security chief for Arden Fair mall.

Here’s a by-the-numbers glance at his career:

2 years: U.S. Army in Vietnam, including hazardous duty on long-range reconnaissance patrols in Vietnam’s Central Highlands

18 years: As a Sacramento police officer, one of the city’s “problem-oriented policing” or POP officers

14 years: English and history teacher to middle-school students in the San Juan Unified School District

15 years: Arden Fair mall security chief

5,000-plus: Number of miles covered working the mall

100s: Number of lost kids reunited with parents

117: Number of stolen vehicles found in mall parking lot in last five years

15: Number of Black Friday openings he’s worked

What he won’t miss: Mondays, daily traffic driving to work