Mall of America in testing phase of new security measures, security expert explains challenges

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Mall of America is the largest shopping mall in the country.

“According to their own information, approximately 40 million people visit the mall on an annual basis,” says Mike Olson, owner of Minneapolis-based 360 Security Services. “It really is like a mini-city.”

Olson — a former U.S. Secret Service agent — says with those kinds of numbers, keeping the mall safe and secure is a daunting challenge.

“The expectation of trying to secure a facility of that size is enormous,” he explains. “The costs associated with that are enormous as well.”

Olson spoke to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS days after gunshots rang out inside the mall’s Nordstrom store.  

Officers found 19-year-old Johntae Hudson of St. Paul shot to death shortly before 8 p.m. last Friday.

Police say the incident began with a fight involving up to nine people before someone pulled out a gun and started firing.  

“The explosive sound was just like a boom, and then you heard screaming,” recalls Jovonta Patton, of north Minneapolis — who was inside the store with friends.

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” declared Bloomington Police Chief Booker Hodges hours after the shooting. “I can’t think of another word, it’s flat-out stupid.”  

Hodges told reporters the mall is now looking at security options.

That was after several gun-related incidents at the mall within the past year.

In August, shots were fired into a crowded Nike store.

No one was hurt, and police later arrested several people.

Weeks later, there was an armed robbery at the Lids store when a man walked in armed with an AR-15 style rifle.

On New Year’s Eve 2021 — the mall went into lockdown after someone shot two people on the second floor.
“The mall is continuously evaluating their security measures, and I know they’re still looking at metal detectors and what would be best for a facility of this size and type,” Hodges says.  

In October — the mall tested out a weapons screening system at the north entrance called Evolv Express.

If a machine alerts security, visitors were asked to empty their pockets or open their bags.

A mall spokesperson says the management is in the “testing phase of multiple security measures” — and is ramping up security and police presence and has also begun random bag checks at entrances.

Olson estimates the mall has at least 40 entrances in all.  

“Certainly, metal detectors, various types of weapons detection systems would be fantastic,” he says. “In order to guarantee some level of that level of security that there’s never going to be an unintended weapon brought in MOA would require a 24/7 operation of metal detectors or some type of weapons detection system.”

Hodges says he supports anything “that’s going to make people more safe.”

But he notes metal detectors aren’t perfect.

“I remind people the state fair had metal detectors, and someone got a gun in there,” he says. “If someone’s going to have blatant disrespect for humanity, I don’t know what we’re going to do to stop someone.”

In a statement released by Mall of America, a spokesperson notes there is an extensive system of surveillance cameras — and that its security department has specialized units that include K-9s, bike patrols, and plainclothes officers.

The statement also says the mall “takes the safety and security of its guests, team members, and tenants very seriously.”

There’s no timeline on the testing phases of the new security measures being considered.

Olson says there are other options where shoppers could sound an alarm about an escalating situation.

“Alerting mechanisms, similar to fire alarm pull stations,” he explains. “Anyone nearby can push a button, an alert system that says, hey, there’s trouble brewing right now.”

On Saturday — Hodges announced the arrest of five suspects in connection with the shooting, including two 18-year-olds and three 17-year-olds.

The 18-year-olds have been identified as Taeshawn Wright and Deandre Depratto.

Authorities have not released the names of the 17-year-olds, who are considered juvenile suspects.

Investigators believe one of the two 18-year-olds shot and killed Hudson.

Police say an approved extension gives prosecutors until noon Wednesday to file charges against the five suspects.

Olson, who worked with the Secret Service for 21 years, says he believes this is a deeper issue, not limited to Mall of America.

“This is definitely a community problem at large,” he notes. “We need to do more to address some of the behavior and the activity that’s allowing somebody to decide that pulling out a gun and shooting somebody else is the solution.”