Understanding Security Theatre: Threat vs Risk

By Bryan Mennie

In the past few weeks we have seen shopping malls subject to armed robberies and in response to this shopping center management have implemented various procedures which they state is an attempt to counter the threat of armed robberies. What they have done in essence is to rely upon our misunderstanding of security fundamentals to implement the most cost effective measures to make it appear as if they are actually doing something. They have lied to us. So let’s analyze the lie.

The management of a well known shopping center implement a robust stop and search policy to counter the threat of armed robbery. What is the threat aspect they are talking about? The threat in this case, is the capability and the intent of armed robbers to commit armed robberies. So in essence this was security theatre part one. No shopping center can actually mitigate against the threat. No matter what they do they cannot directly disrupt the fact that armed robbery gangs exist nor can they disrupt those groups’ capability to commit those crimes.

Such mitigation is a police function and is well outside of the scope of any facilities orientated security team.
The only manner in which shopping centers can mitigate the threat is to cooperate with each other and implement programs supportive of improving policing infrastructure in countering this threat.

The actual concept that these entities are looking at managing is the risk of armed robbery. In other words the probability that the armed robbery threat will impact a business within their facility. In order to do that they need to identify the risk drivers, the actual causal factors which drive the probability either upwards or downwards. Not to recognize and apply such a strategy is the same as trying to treat a disease by its symptoms and not preventing it.

Now that we understand these key concepts lets look at the risk drivers and then the security theater presented to us and decide for ourselves if the tail is wagging the dog. Armed robbers want cash or really high value goods, lets agree upon that. These goods need to be easy transportable and be easily liquidated.

So risk driver number one is the presence of cash or high value goods. There are some really great, innovative concepts which seek to mitigate this risk driver, granted not all of them are practically implementable in the South African context, but to decrease the amount of physical cash would be a significant dent in the risk of armed robbery. Alternatively improving your cash management capabilities, Casino’s with centralized cash drops, smart cards and similar processes have quite effectively minimized the overall threat of armed robberies.

Secondly the spatial arrangement of shopping centers often sees cash intensive or high value assets situated in a manner which increases the risk. With some clever intuitive design shopping centers can impact the risk without impinging upon the experience of the shoppers.

The third risk driver for increasing the probability of armed robbery is poor management and a misunderstanding of liability. By implementing pointless security measures you not only demoralize your physical security personnel, but you create cases where interaction between security personnel and impacted shoppers causes friction, which in turn causes conflict. This further detracts from the capability of providing security, or creates the requirement to implement ill thought through policies. Conflict causes distractions which ultimately decrease security.

Think about this; a shopping center wants to create a pleasant shopping experience, thus creating conflict is not conducive to that. Should a shopping center decide to utilize a more professional security capability increasing their behind the scenes capacity, and using less intrusive technology which are supportive of the other risk mitigation measures, then they can decrease their reliance on stop and search tactics or other outmoded and frankly ineffective deterrent measures.

So if we can agree that the risk drivers for armed robberies are the presence of cash, an environment in which robbers have easy access and a security program which is poorly managed, then how does the security theatre illusion currently sold not work?

  • Stop-and-search stations. These are purely aimed at selling the lie. The mathematical chances of these routine bound counter measures actually interdicting an armed robbery without prior intelligence are slim and the capability of these measures in dealing with the robbers should that occur are nonexistent.
  • Banning caps and sunglasses. Caps and sunglasses defeat CCTV and that is why they are worn. CCTV is an investigative aid to help identify criminals AFTER the robbery has occurred. So selling that as a preventative measure is another lie. Of far greater value would be biometric capture measures at bank doors, eye level CCTV and the capability of applying covert or low profile incident identification and interdiction teams to enhance the already discussed measures would be actual preventative measures.
  • Banning law abiding firearm owners. This is pure unconstitutional discrimination. The real fact is that a law abiding firearm owner has NEVER used his licensed firearm to commit an armed robbery at a shopping mall. This person has that specific firearm linked to him or her though an exhaustive process and would be stupid to use it. Aside from that this is a group of people who have been subject to a whole battery of process measures, been fingerprinted, vetted and constitute the most law abiding identifiable statistical segment of society, and when carrying their firearm as dictated by the FCA will stand right next to you or me and we will never know it. The other fear often quoted by journalists and mall managers is that they fear law abiding firearm owners will engage with armed robbers, conveniently ignoring the fact that the only times that this has happened that hundreds of lives have been saved.

So in essence when we look at the concept of security theater we see that malls are simply trying to live through the news cycle and spend as little money as possible all the whilst selling you and me, the general public, a complete and utter lie. Oh how we blindly trust.

Bryan Mennie has extensive Policing, Security, and Contracting experience. He is currently an Incident Management Professional, and still very much involved with the South African Police Service.

11 thoughts on “Understanding Security Theatre: Threat vs Risk

  1. The response will be. How can we tell the diff between a good (legal owner) from a bad one. So we ban all guns. Now they take glasses and caps. What’s next’? The head gear worn y Muslims (Jihab Close to Jihad??) will not be removed. Guess I must become a Muslim before they ask me to leave my jacket outside as well. Oh, ok of I bring my 4 pound hammer for some window shopping?


  2. Great article, I really like the way you put it. Makes sense as its all show. The more people are annoyed the more they believe they’re being made safe. Where has limiting responsible gun owners ever deterred criminals from making use of firearms. Why not just post “criminal free” signs cause that surely works.


  3. Hey there, so GS was correct I don’t typically check comments and given that I had wrote the article I hadn’t even read this specific blog posting (kind of like talking to ones self is reading ones own written word and I am not quite there yet!) In any event let me correct something. I have no military experience and nor do I claim any. I have the worlds respect for our soldiers and their service but I have always been a policeman. The inadvertent typo was not mine and has since been rectified. Thank you Cobus for following up on that. Kind regards Bryan


  4. It’s a good article and firearm owners will love it because like everyone they think some kind of sympathy vote exists, government will listen or you can convince people who everyday read in the paper of some shooting or death. Where this woolly headed thinking comes from heaven only knows.

    You cannot convince government, governments wants these guns. Government is shit scared of citizens with guns. The sympathy vote does not exist and that leaves only one alternative which no firearm organisation bar SAFF and SALGO have ever addressed no matter how many times it was explained to them. Worst of all are the organisations telling people to just accept there is nothing you can do. Gun controls helpers and supporters.


  5. While firearm owners and organisation pontificate about solutions gun control and gun control supports make direct suggestions and try to help offering a really cheap and easy solution. Put up signs. Hire a few cheap guards to stand around. The public will love it becasue they know it will be gun free. Neither will be of any use but management can say look we did or best and followed “expert” advice.

    The real solutions are hugely costly which is why gun control is pervasive to such business. Naturally this would not be happening if firearm owners made sure the public knew that these gun control measure would increase the danger to their lives.

    Are firearm owners the least interested in this solution? So far none think it can work. They don’t have a clue what can or cannot work work and are not qualified to judge what can work.

    What can be more stupid that basing your safety on a belief? Always ask any firearm organisation what are you doing to protect our rights and SAFETY and I promise none of them are doing a thing because YOU do not demand they do. Any clams they are is a lie and I will show it is a lie.

    We have legislation changes coming up. What have any of them done about that?


  6. So have firearm organisations lead by lawyers entered the fray and are now trying to fix things again so they have the “least impact”?

    Instead of actually getting off their bum being sensible and not cowards and challenging theses laws with the help of members. They are so blinded that cannot see daily how trade unions hold the country to ransom and get what they want.

    They think numbers do it and are right but unless those numbers will stand by you in your demands the number can be 50 million and it makes no difference to government. It means you are powerless.

    That is what you get from people who do not understand the principles of negotiation and think begging and giving OUR rights away is negotiation. None of them have been empowered to give our rights away or indoctrinate us into acceptance of that loss of rights becasue they failed to protect them.

    We don’t have to be powerless. We don’t have to eat crow. We don’t have to suck governments and the SAPS teat. We don’t have to be cowards to frightened to challenge government over our rights to safety but we always will be if we are lead by people who will not lead and who are to frightened to challenge government in case government picks on them. They know this will happen as they do not protect members do they.

    Each day we see the proof that you can challenge government and win but what do these cowardly “leaders” tell us “you cannot fight government” and we now believe it. It is an outright lie to protect their unwillingness to lead and organise opposition.

    I challenge any firearm organisation official to show what they are doing to remove these ridiculous laws they have accepted and embraced. To show that they have demonstrated complete opposition to what will reduce public safety and is the duty as good citizens to oppose bad laws.


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