INDIANAPOLIS — Behind a series of locked doors within Castleton Square Mall, accessed only by fingerprint scanners, sit approximately 90 operatives, all dressed in black, employed by Simon Property Group, watching video feeds, sifting intelligence and utilizing predictive data to not only monitor security at more than 200 shopping malls across the United States but also predict where trouble may break out and then deploy resources to stop it.
Simon’s Operational Intelligence Center rivals any other security center of its kind in the private sector, according to Simon Vice President and Chief Security Officer Russ Tuttle.
”We’ve had 15 law enforcement summits around the country and we’ve had hundreds of police chiefs and commanders, tenant security executives from all the tenant spaces who’ve toured this facility and their comments and their feedback have been that this is one of the most, if not the most, comprehensive security program that they’ve ever seen.”
That the extensive mall intelligence and monitoring system is located on the north side of the city, hidden inside a popular shopping center, is not only surprising but yet should be somewhat expected as The Simon Property Group’s world headquarters is located eight miles away in downtown Indianapolis.
”This is our community. Indianapolis is where we started,” said Simon Chief Administrative Officer John Rulli. “We’ve been very instrumental in helping develop downtown, building our properties.
”I think the general public would be very surprised to see what goes on behind the scenes and how comprehensive the security programming is and the level of safety that exists. Here before we’ve never really communicated those things that we are doing and now from time-to-time, depending on the community, we’re sharing those details because we want people to know what’s happening behind the scenes.”
Simon granted rare and almost unprecedented access to FOX59 News to its Castleton OIC following a string of shootings at two of its Indianapolis area malls since last summer in an attempt to send a message of security to shoppers while warning others that arrest and prosecution is likely for committing crimes on any shopping center property.
“We’ve generally kept things quiet because we didn’t want people to know our security programming,” said Rulli. “We didn’t want the bad guy to understand the capabilities that we had and the fact that we see them, we watch them, we catch them. But we’ve decided to change that philosophy and let our community know that we’re out ahead of it, what we need to do to win and will continue to invest and extend additional technologies until we get to the point where people feel really comfortable that the bad guy stops coming to do bad things on any of our properties.”
Every day dozens of Simon Security Operatives sit before banks of monitors viewing video while taking phone calls, dispatching local security officers and analyzing intelligence and predicative data that paint a picture of a shopping mall’s environment.
The busiest periods are late afternoon to early evening hours Thursday through Saturday as shoppers flock to malls in overlapping time zones from coast-to-coast.
”They’re looking at a lot of different things. Artificial intelligence. They’re looking at cameras. They’re taking in phone calls. They’re dispatching security officers and police officers around the country. They’re disseminating, gathering and sharing intelligence from a variety of sources,” said Tuttle. “We bring it in here where we have certified intelligence analysts who create intelligence products and disseminate that not only through our OIC specialists here in the Center but to our security teams on the ground all over the country.”
Whether it’s a teenager attempting to conceal a bulge in a pocket that could be a gun in Florida or a suspicious vehicle circling a loading dock in Los Angeles or a shoplifting crew working its way across country from mall-to-mall on an interstate, the operatives in Indianapolis are monitoring the video or intelligence in an attempt to get ahead of crime or call in police and security to deal with it quickly.
”What you’re trying to use is every tool that you can to put you in position to be looking at the cameras at the right time at the right day for the right reason,” said Tuttle. ”We have a predictability tool that we use that gives us a probability model of where incidents may occur based on a variety of data points built into this algorithm that allows us to not only deploy our resources in a more scientific way but to also view our cameras in a more scientific way.”
Tuttle said Simon is also seeking to upgrade Artificial Intelligence tools that will sharpen its ability to recognize banned persons even as it adds more capabilities to work closely with its local host law enforcement agencies.
”Whether its through our license plate reader technology. Whether its through our camera technology. Whether its through the twice-a-year large scale drills that we do with the police department. Whether its through having us put a substation there or whether its us hiring them, we provide them that intelligence that they need both forensically and investigatively that helps them lead to making an apprehension and making an arrest.”
Simon estimates it invests $150 million annually into its security operations with even more budgeted for capital improvements.
”Our programming is very unique, very comprehensive, has high level certifications for the last 15 years we’ve been one step ahead with our programming but the focus on crimes against people has been what’s most important to us over the last two or three years,” according to Rulli who said that customer traffic at Simon malls is back to its pre-pandemic 2019 levels. ”Peoples’ safety is always important. Occasionally if you have a problem at a particular property you really have to be on top of it and you have to do what you need to do to make people feel comfortable.”