“Busted” at Mall of America ‘ a Lesson in Amusement Park Security

Ia��m a person who takes a camera wherever I go. As Legal Counsel for the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA), I never know when I'll be at a location that has a link to the amusement industry, however passing or remote.

By Greg Van Gompel.

In the Twin Cities area of St. Paul and Minneapolis, (Minnesota) past and current amusement industry history is quite rich with places such as Wonderland Park, Wildwood Park, Excelsior Park, and Big Island Park, to name a few. A few days ago, I was heading back home from a doctor’s visit in downtown Minneapolis and had some time to stop at the Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America. It had been almost a year since I last visited, and I wanted to see how some of the newest additions had been incorporated into the park. Last time, the American Girl store on the far east side was just a shell, and the food court on the south side was being overhauled. As I entered the park, the bright and vivid colors of Nickelodeon Universe danced and sparkled in the rays of the bright winter sun in Minnesota. I hauled out my nifty digital camera and started snapping. After taking some shots of the concrete pad where the park’s new ride would be installed, I headed over between the Avatar Airbender and the Fairly Odd Coaster to get images of the ride vehicles, when it happened — I got BUSTED by Mall of America undercover security.  Okay, busted may not be the right word, but it did get your attention.
 
Ask the right questions and be vigilant

Officer Wheeler stopped me and she made it seem all so routine. As for me, I knew exactly what she was doing before she even started. As a lone person, without a family nearby, taking pictures of rides in a non-normal area for walking through the park, my actions probably seemed strange to her. “Hi there, ” she says. “I’d just like to ask you a few questions that we ask several of our guests…” She asks what brought me out to the Mall today, how long have I been there, what do I think about the Mall, etc. Naturally I tell her about my interest in the park, that I’m with NAPHA and hand her one of my business cards. After some more small talk, she explains that at this point, they normally like to see some form of ID so she can take down information about who she is talking to. Then she pulls out her two-way radio and begins to give name, address, and license information to a person in the office. While waiting for a response, she asks to see some of the pictures I was taking, to which I happily oblige. After receiving some communication back, Officer Wheeler asked me some additional questions, cross-checking my business information with the NAPHA details. 
 
Well trained security staff are key

The point of this story is not that I got “busted, ” but that Officer Wheeler and the security staff at the Mall of America proved to me that the park is doing a good job of monitoring its premises. She was not heavy-handed in her approach yet extremely thorough and professional. She asked all the right questions and was vigilant. Her actions reminded me of a story I was told about the workers at another park. As the story goes, these workers reported to their manager that they believed they had observed two Secret Security agents at the park. Their basis was that the two visitors in question were at the park without family and without cameras, and they were closely scrutinizing the facility.

Not every person whose actions depart from the norm is going to turn out a Secret Service agent or a threat to park security. The question is, how observant are your employees? Do they know when a situation doesn’t look right? Do your security people know what questions to ask in these unique situations? Can they do it fluidly? What type of reliable information do you use to check on a suspicious guest? In the amusement industry, we want our guests to have safe fun. Well-trained security staffs help us to reach that goal.

Images: by author

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