A flier distributed by a mall security supervisor in California demonstrates the fine line private security professionals must walk when notifying those they protect of perceived threats.
In late January, security guards at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California, handed out fliers to mall businesses warning them of two African-American men they suspected of casing stores with criminal intent. Luxury stores within the shopping center had previously reported two men who came into their shops asking questions about how many employees were working and where their security cameras were located. In response, a security supervisor at the mall decided on his own to draft and to distribute the fliers warning tenants of the suspicious behavior.
"The two African American males seen in the photograph are known for their suspicious activity," said the flier, which featured a blurry security camera image of the two men. "They have asked for the most expensive items at one of our fine jewelers in the shopping center."
Some mall workers who read the flier did not approve of its content. A waiter at a cafe inside the shopping center called security, operated by Los Angeles-based Andrews International, to complain.
"I just felt like sticking my neck out for these guys — it was so egregiously insensitive," Marc Cohen told the paper. "All it says was they were asking for expensive items. This is the arch prototype racial profiling incident."
Dan Hoffman, the senior vice president for human resources and legal affairs at Andrews International, told the paper that the security supervisor violated company policy by not contacting management before drafting and distributing the flier. The supervisor has since been disciplined and has received additional training on company policy along with the entire mall security staff, Hoffman said. He added that Andrews International does not train its security guards to racially profile anyone.
"A young person trying to do the right thing violated some procedures," Hoffman said.
An African-American coworker of Cohen's, Kent Casimir, said that while he found the incident "shocking," he does believe the security supervisor was trying to do the right thing, even if he went about it wrong.
"I'm sure that they did it in good heart and good faith and just trying to help," he said.
The incident, however, is a reminder that security professionals need to pay special attention when drafting public warnings to not carelessly use language that can be misconstrued as racial profiling.
♦ Photo of the Stanford Shopping Center by frankfarm/Flickr