Guard Towers at Walmart

This feels very creepy and police-state-like. What on earth could Walmart be worried about?

EDITED TO ADD (1/4): A reader points out that they're increasingly common in parking lots to deter automobile crimes.

Posted on January 4, 2011 at 9:34 AM • 104 Comments

Comments

Brent WJanuary 4, 2011 9:48 AM

Those have been common the last several years in Movie Theater, Mall and Wal-Mart parking lots as a deterrent to petty theft from vehicles. I won't defend their existence but the video is very misleading.

First of all, he assumes that these are paid for by the federal government but doesn't offer any proof. I would assume that the businesses hosting them are requesting them and sharing the cost with the local PD.

Second, these things are set up in the very center of large parking lots. Perhaps the range of the cameras is large enough to see beyond the lot but not by much.

RightJanuary 4, 2011 9:50 AM

You're right, it is very police-state-like. Oh, wait, no it's not. Wal-Mart is a company.

But it sure is creepy.

Mike BJanuary 4, 2011 9:52 AM

Those are popular with local police departments for events with large crowds, but most of the time those booths are usually unoccupied. It's amazing what people are willing to be outraged over these days...and what they are not.

AFJanuary 4, 2011 9:53 AM

I agree with first poster in that the video is misleading. Given the amount of theft from cars that occurs at malls around the holiday season it looks like a pretty good idea. If they parked one in my subdivision i might be concerned though :)

Bruce SchneierJanuary 4, 2011 9:55 AM

"Those have been common the last several years in Movie Theater, Mall and Wal-Mart parking lots as a deterrent to petty theft from vehicles. I won't defend their existence but the video is very misleading."

Thank you for that clarification.

SteveJanuary 4, 2011 9:56 AM

Walmart is probably worried about thefts from autos and customers getting mugged. These have been around for at least 10 years in the more crime-ridden big city suburbs in the US, for the same reason. You also see them every summer in certain amusement and theme park parking lots.

Mr. ShreckJanuary 4, 2011 9:57 AM

I've seen these over the years at various malls and other large retailer parking lots, particularly around the holidays, but in some places year round. Large numbers of people shopping, travelling through lots with arm loads of packages, cars full of new merchandise. It's a thieve's paradise, so it's no surprise the cops follow.

There was a high-profile murder of a mother and child in my hometown a few years ago in a mall parking lot and the outcry for increased security (or security theater, your call) was enormous. The mall took a huge economic hit from people afraid to shop there. My guess is short attention spans and the urge to consume have more to do with the now restored crowds than the increased police presence.

Imperfect CitizenJanuary 4, 2011 10:00 AM

Great post Bruce. Will there be police in the tower? Or contractors? Are they really hiring that many police?

Won't it be sad for our beautiful country if we do get used to seeing these things around? Aside from the creepy visual message "we're watching you," my first thought was "how will this be abused?" considering what has happened to me/my family on my "observation".

Its striking to me the predatory patterns/nature of these "security" measures. The perimeters, the towers, the watching for suspicious things that might just be the only things reported whereas exculpatory will be ignored. Who will be targeted from this tower? Will they see some person they don't like and run his/her plate and start an "observation" using local law enforcement's powers under the Patriot Act? Then will it take on a life of its own as a witch hunt?

VVKJanuary 4, 2011 10:01 AM

I think this is Wal-Mart's response to the numerous cases of rape, assault and theft which have occurred in the past in Wal-Mart's parking lots and the resulting lawsuits. This topic was highlighted in the movie "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0473107/

The mobile watch towers are certainly creepy, but they are a descent solution to monitoring Wal-Mart's gigantic dim-lit parking lots.

They should come-up with a more friendly and discrete looking solution, but something is better than nothing I suppose.

sentinelJanuary 4, 2011 10:07 AM

Oh come on, are you foolish enough to believe the "petty theft deterrant" explanation?

The plan is working quite well apparently..

Cade RouxJanuary 4, 2011 10:12 AM

They have these in a new Home Depot parking lot near the Superdome/Arena - not a particularly nice neighborhood, they also park a lot of police cars there - I always figured they were just a completely unmanned fake security deterrent. They regularly use them on parade routes in Metairie and New Orleans during Mardi Gras, so I though perhaps they would get double duty by storing them where they might have deterrent effect.

AaronJanuary 4, 2011 10:13 AM

Seems like a big waste of govt dollars when it's deployed in an empty walmart parking lot. I'd like to see these in Louisville at Churchill downs, and at the derby, big games, etc.

HenstonJanuary 4, 2011 10:15 AM

WalMarts have had obvious, multiple video surveillance cameras on their 'rooftops' for decades.

...But obviously WalMart now thinks those rooftop cameras are ineffective -- and is opting for much more blatant "display" of parking lot surveillance.

That says a lot about the supposed effectiveness of surveillance-cameras in general -- and their mindless spread everywhere these days.

kangarooJanuary 4, 2011 10:15 AM

@Right: You're right, it is very police-state-like. Oh, wait, no it's not. Wal-Mart is a company.

And why am I supposed to give a shit about that distinction?

I'm sure the Iraqis feel all better that they've been occupied by more mercenaries than soldiers -- it's just "private companies" after all.

jbmooreJanuary 4, 2011 10:18 AM

A tower was deployed by the Dallas Police Department at a Kroger Signature grocery store after the convenience bank within the store had been robbed twice. This occured last year. It was onsite for about two weeks. It was not continually manned.

Kyle MaxwellJanuary 4, 2011 10:19 AM

I've seen these at large events in addition to all manner of public places in the Dallas area. Without further information this doesn't say "police state" to me any more than a beat cop does.

I haven't seen any statistics relating to their effectiveness, but these sorts of efforts seem to me prima facie more useful than, say, automated vehicle surveillance that tracks license plates and stores images for later analysis. THAT would concern the civil libertarian in me.

DamonJanuary 4, 2011 10:19 AM

If there was a security guard sitting on a stool in that spot, nobody would give a shit. But raise it up 30 feet, and now it's a Big Deal?

HJohnJanuary 4, 2011 10:21 AM

@VVK: They should come-up with a more friendly and discrete looking solution
_____________

I doubt discrete would serve as a deterent. It's entirely possible in high crime areas that it will reassure shoppers that the location is safe.

Wal Mart is a very well-managed company. I don't know all the details, but i suspect there is more to it than a police state mentality.

SethJanuary 4, 2011 10:21 AM

The Fort Worth (Texas) Police Department has these things everywhere in Fort Worth. I've seen them at Walmarts, Target, malls, etc. Any high-traffic area will have one of these things. I asked a friend who has a lot of involvement with the police department (on some funding boards, goes on ride-alongs frequently, etc) and he said that if the booths are up they ARE manned. I tend to believe him on this aspect.

Police-state(ish)? Maybe. But really what's the difference in the cameras already deployed by these various companies? What's the difference with having police stand in the stores and patrol the parking lots at the request of the store? Or a private security force? Now with this it's just a bit combined and possibly more efficient. I would rather not be watched, but if I have no choice (and I don't), I'd rather be watched by trained officers that are held to a higher standard than some power-craved employees/private security.

Also, we have to realize that store parking lots are private property. The police are there by request of the store/property owner. They can't just put one of these things on your lawn and watch over your neighborhood cookout party.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 4, 2011 10:21 AM

@ Right,

"You're right, it is very police-state-like. Oh, wait no it's not. Wal-Mart is a company"

Yup less legal restraint as a company than the US state currently (but not for long :( when it comes to unwarented invasion of privacy...

RandyJanuary 4, 2011 10:21 AM

I think Potomac Mills has permanent guard towers. I'll double-check the next time I'm out that way and maybe try to get a picture (if I can do that without being arrested, molested, or harrassed for taking pictures).

This is just the next level of "visible deterrent" that we've come to. We're used to seeing the guards, the cameras, etc, and now we ignore them because we've learned they are mostly for show. So, now we have big ugly "guard towers" to scare us into submission?

As a society our senses dull to the mundane and everyday. When I was a child, the firetrucks had a single red flashing light and a simple siren. That was sufficient, and everyone knew to get the heck out of the way. Now emergency vehicles have 10-dozen different lights and sirens, and are painted a variety of ugly colors to try and get enough attention from distracted motorists to get them to move out of the way. So, what's next?

JHJanuary 4, 2011 10:25 AM

... and overt surveillance is far preferable to covert CCTV systems etc. This is fine by me.

A music festival I often go to has watch towers in the campsites. Some of my friends prefer to camp near one, because it deters tent theft. I suspect they'd hire something like these if it was cheaper than erecting a structure from scaffolding.

ErikJanuary 4, 2011 10:28 AM

The San Diego Zoo used to have guard towers in the parking lot to help prevent car break-ins. I don't think we ever thought it was creepy -- the guys manning the posts looked more like lifeguards than law enforcement.

Now if Wal-Mart puts the towers *inside* the store -- that would be creepy.

zorroJanuary 4, 2011 10:31 AM

since Mall-Wart might eventually be the only store to do your shopping in, it will be necessary to ensure the public area security there more than in other locations.

LeeHJanuary 4, 2011 10:31 AM

Yup, I saw these in Disney parking lots in Florida recently. I figured they were cheaper than rentacops patrolling in SUVs.

More insidious to me, and off-topic here, was Disney asking 'guests' for a fingerprint and a ticket at the entry point.

CodyJanuary 4, 2011 10:32 AM

This does feel like a police state. Right or wrong, it gives the impression security of the state is more important than security of the citizens. Whatever happened to cops walking a beat, they might become petty dictators, but you can put a face to an action. They're probably much more expensive, but probably more effective too. A camera tower is a passive panopticon, a real like human being can take action if only in their limited vision.

DavidJanuary 4, 2011 10:35 AM

Having had a gun pulled on my wife and I at the Wal-mart in Glen Burnie Maryland around Thanksgiving 2009, I would have been happy to have a temporary guard tower there. The useless police officers (one Maryland State trooper and two other humps from the county PD) they had on duty in the store didn't seem to care at all when I reported what happened. They were just drawing some off duty holiday pay and didn't want to be bothered.

Alan KaminskyJanuary 4, 2011 10:36 AM

If you don't like Big Brother watching you from his guard tower, then don't shop at Walmart or the mall. Shop at the little mom-and-pop stores downtown instead.

Oh, wait . . . there are none of those any more . . . they've all been driven out of business by Walmart or the mall . . .

MaxJanuary 4, 2011 10:40 AM

Wouldn't an Hellfire armed Predator drone be a bigger deterrent and able to cover more ground?

Just sayin'.

kangarooJanuary 4, 2011 10:51 AM

And everyone does know that these things will only work while they're novel, right? As soon as they become ubiquitous, they'll be ignored/worked around just like every other unmanned system.

The problem is that the panopticon is used as security on the cheap. No one wants to actually pay for real security -- paying some guy enough cash to keep his eye out for thieves and bullies. The totalitarian state -- the police state -- isn't about having security everywhere (that's economically unfeasible) but having security theater everywhere.

It's not like even in old East Germany the Stasi really were able to watch everything going on -- they just convinced everyone that it was possible. Making folks paranoid is cheaper than external enforcement.

Tracy ReedJanuary 4, 2011 10:56 AM

The San Diego zoo has had this sort of thing on the parking lots for many years. They watch your car for thieves. It is a good thing.

Dan KJanuary 4, 2011 11:08 AM

I think this discussion would be a lot more sane if we got rid of loaded expressions like "police state," which is really meant to evoke visions of excessive, omnipresent, intrusive police presence.

I'm personally in favor of the police being in high-crime areas, and I also support increasing both the presence of visibility of police in high-crime areas. So I kind of like this, as long as it's deployed only where needed.

On the other hand, maybe the "police state" moniker really applies. This would imply that they're also doing more intrusive things like using shotgun mikes to listen in on conversations, recording license plates arbitrarily, trying door locks, looking into cars, etc., taking pictures of people, etc. Are they?

mcbJanuary 4, 2011 11:15 AM

Haven't seen the video (we can't watch YouTube at work) but I'm familiar with the equipment. Premises liability law and the OSHA General Duty Clause (as applies to employees) make protecting customers, employees, vehicles, and property from crimes common in parking areas (theft, robbery, assault, and rape, among others) a financial necessity and legal responsibility as well as a laudable goal. Sometimes security officers are better at providing surveillance over large areas than are security camera systems or boots on the ground. Putting a fraction of your private security staff at an elevation where they can take in the activity across an entire private parking lot and direct the efforts of other team members can be very effective. Disneyland has conducted human overwatch of their parking lots for decades. It's the "happiest place on earth" because they strive to make it so. There are similar situations where law enforcement agencies need to apply temporary surveillance to large public gatherings (or parking areas). A portable solution is quieter and less expensive than helicopters and might even reduce reliance on fixed nannycams installed across the community. Funding acquisition of the equipment or sharing it with local law enforcement may serve as a tax-deduction and a public service. Decide what you want people. WalMart customers have already voted for lower prices...damn the cost.

CurbyJanuary 4, 2011 11:34 AM

Re: money trail, who's actually paying for these things? I thought that parking lots were considered private property, and crime prevention therein was not the responsibility of local police. Hence all the signs saying "Park at your own risk. We're not responsible to damage/loss/theft." Are local PDs actually paying for these things, or is it the companies that own the land/parking lots that fork out the money?

@Tracy Reed: are you new here? Surveillance cameras almost never prevent crime. Cameras aren't smart enough to detect a crime: you need people watching camera feeds constantly to even have a chance of detecting and interrupting a crime in progress, watching cameras is so mundane that you're likely to miss crimes anyway, and there are simply too many cameras to watch.

Surveillance cameras may or may not help solve a crime. Regardless, at that point the towers have already failed their supposed goal of "preventing crime."

OttoJanuary 4, 2011 11:39 AM

I see those all over the place here in Memphis. They basically are just mobile towers used for special events or other places that have higher crime risks. I don't really see any sort of problem with them, it's just a way for the police to focus their attention onto a specific area in an effort to reduce or catch crime happening there.

RoyJanuary 4, 2011 11:49 AM

I won't buy the premise that stores want these. Once the sale is made and the shopper leaves the store, the store does not suffer if trouble happens in the parking lot, be it robbery or theft. Nobody is going to decide not to shop at Wal-Mart because of what happens in the parking lot: they will decide to be more careful.

I suspect somebody found some way to funnel tax money meant for one thing into something else, and ICX invented these dummy towers just to use up the available money.

BTW, there are many places these will never be used -- wherever the wind will tear them down.

HasufinJanuary 4, 2011 12:00 PM

I'd put this firmly in the category of "tool". Could be effective, could be ineffective, depending on how it's used. Could be a tool of authoritarianism, could be a tool of preserving rights and safety - depending on how it's used.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 4, 2011 12:00 PM

"I won't buy the premise that stores want these. Once the sale is made and the shopper leaves the store, the store does not suffer if trouble happens in the parking lot, be it robbery or theft."

Of course they do. One shopper telling an "I got robbed in the Store X" parking lot can convince a lot of listeners to shop elsewhere.

David RobartsJanuary 4, 2011 12:34 PM

The tower in this video belongs to the local police department, purchased with a Federal grant. This is an example of laws to fight terrorism being used to fight ordinary crime. Would the local government be able to justify the cost to the local taxpayers if the Federal government wasn't paying for it? Probably not. These seem to be designed to be used manned or unmanned - and it can be difficult to know if someone is inside because the windows are tinted. It seems to me that a manned observation platform (with a well trained observer) would be better than cameras watched from a building across town - the observer has windows to get an overview of the scene and cameras to assist in observing the details. However, the observer still cannot take effective action - that requires support from officers on the ground (or snipers in the tower - I hope we don't go there).

Dirk PraetJanuary 4, 2011 12:41 PM

There really are very fine guidelines out there for providing adequate and unobtrusive security in open spaces in general and parking lots in particular. The further you take them, the more likely you will have to pay for them. For public property, that's what your tax dollars are for. For privately/company owned infrastructure, it should be included in the price you pay for their products or services.

I guess it's typical for Wal-Mart and similar organisations to revert to this type of Soviet-like security theatre when slammed by their customers over failing or non-existent security. For those people that are genuinely concerned with their safety in such places, or have been the victim of a mugging or other type of assault:

1) Write management to bring their security measures up to specs with industry standard best practices, not to outsource them to bozo-contractors that will do whatever to make an easy buck, giving you a false sense of security only and making a mockery of "the land of the free and the home of the brave" in the process. Take your business elsewhere if they don't.

2) Write your congressman to support gun control legislation that actually makes sense.

Rich-January 4, 2011 12:44 PM

How many people arrive at the parking lot, spot the tower, and decide "this must be an _incredibly_ dangerous neighborhood -- I'll just stay in my car and drive somewhere else"?

SleepWatchingJanuary 4, 2011 12:45 PM

Where I work, a bloody shoe was found in the company parking lot. Employees were asked what they saw or might know about the situation. Wait, check the security camera footage. Yeah, that camera has been broken for months and they chose NOT to fix it. So, due to embarassment, the camera was fixed (not the first time this happened), but now it couldn't see the parking lot due to trees blocking the view. Trees removed.

I am thinking the watchtowers are there for security theater, or certainly will be when money has to be spent to keep them going.

IcelanderJanuary 4, 2011 1:41 PM

Walmart's probably worried about people breaking into cars. However, a sabotage spree directed at Walmarts around the country would have seriously implications for the economy. Of course, the things people would be sabotaging wouldn't be in the parking lots.

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 4, 2011 1:43 PM

Oh, obviously Wal-Mart should just get rid of parking lots and instead pick their shoppers up with light-rail and trolleys that cover their market area.

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 4, 2011 1:59 PM

"I won't buy the premise that stores want these. Once the sale is made and the shopper leaves the store, the store does not suffer if trouble happens in the parking lot, be it robbery or theft."

parking lots are private property but owners can still be cited for violating laws such as safety violations (OSHA).

it's mostly up to interpretation of the laws. i have seen surveillance cameras justified by HR as an important way to help defend a company against employee claims. i also have seen lawyers demand cameras be removed and signs put up that say the company accepts no liability.

AndrewJanuary 4, 2011 2:15 PM

@Dirk Praet

I would love to see your 'very fine guidelines for adequate and unobtrusive security.' Perhaps you could provide a cite or a link so that us career security managers could learn all the things we apparently don't know.

Parking lot security is a matter of lighting, signage, cameras (preferably monitored) and most expensive, personnel such as guards. Wal-Mart's parking lot security is actually pretty good compared to many other retailers. The greeters and cart gatherers are in a good position to respond to unusual events in parking lots; contract guards patrolling in vehicles deter muggings and discourage auto burglary, at least for those who bother to lock their cars.

A guard in an overhead tower can see a lot more than the same guard on the ground, and report their observations by radio and telephone. They may not be able to 'directly' intervene, but they are perfectly able to observe and to report. The trade-off is lack of mobility and ability to change vantage points. Tinted windows also create some doubt as to whether the tower is manned, which cuts both ways and 'evens out' the perceived coverage.

As for bladders, there exists a device called a "Porta-John" and its cheap cousin, the wide-mouth Gatorade bottle.

Your blind belief that in-house guards are superior to contract guards is puzzling at best. A poorly performing contract guard can be replaced with a phone call; an employee must be warned, disciplined and documented. (I'd also add 'paid benefits' but we are talking about Wal-Mart here.)

"2) Write your congressman to support gun control legislation that actually makes sense."

I am unaware of any "gun control" legislation that actually makes sense. What this has to do with towers in Wal-Mart parking lots is also unclear. A person who has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor is already prohibited from possessing a firearm under the 30-year old Gun Control Act. If my goal is to mug, I can buy a perfectly adequate 'camping' knife for less than $10 inside that same WalMart.

John HardinJanuary 4, 2011 2:46 PM

@Dirk Praet: To you, does "gun control legislation that makes sense" include that it will actually affect those who carry guns and ignore the law - i.e. violent criminals?

Gun control does nothing but disarm the law-abiding.

HJohnJanuary 4, 2011 2:50 PM

@George: "The video lost me when it opened with a fox news reporter."
_________

I didn't realize a reporter had to be from a network that is GeorgeApproved(TM) to be able to fairly report on a guard tower.

ModeratorJanuary 4, 2011 3:00 PM

Please do not turn this into a gun thread.

RC, you know you are not allowed to use this blog as a platform for your crusade against the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments.

Carl, if you want to sockpuppet effectively, you are going to have to improve your reading comprehension. Quoting a simple English sentence and then replying as if it says the opposite of what it says will give you away every time.

Wet USB SlotJanuary 4, 2011 3:34 PM

I'd welcome military guard towers around every store, but on a grander scale. I'd welcome every commercial district to be self contained within a military complex with non lethal ammo deployed against law breakers.

B. D. JohnsonJanuary 4, 2011 3:47 PM

Towers like were fairly common back when I was living on Long Island. Plenty of car lots had them and construction sites even had portable versions they would set up. Only about half were actually manned. Few timers for lights goes along way to deter your more casual criminals and kids out to break or tag stuff. Anybody with the foresight to stake out the place and figure out there's nobody inside probably won't be terribly deterred by a $7/hour guard and it pays off fairly quickly.

aikimarkJanuary 4, 2011 3:47 PM

>>Fox reporter

That was no reporter. That was talking head (hack) Andrew Napolitano, a former NJ Superior Court judge.

====
The DC Metro Police had such posts at the Sanity/Fear Rally. Although my view wasn't obstructed, I would have been pissed had I not been able to see for one of these mobile police structures.

Rick AuricchioJanuary 4, 2011 4:03 PM

How do these towers help with crimes in progress? It isn't as if they're going to have sharpshooters up there. (In a prison environment, it's OK for them to shoot.)

Criminals will just learn to wear hats or masks to avoid identification on the camera, and they'll work quickly to be gone before a patrol car arrives.

But the potential victims may enjoy the false sense of security provided by the tower.

HJohnJanuary 4, 2011 4:17 PM

@Rick Auricchio: Criminals will just learn to wear hats or masks to avoid identification on the camera, and they'll work quickly to be gone before a patrol car arrives.
_________

Those manning the tours will probably have communication into on site ground security inside of wal mart.

Funny, I remember grocery shopping at a wal mart at midnight thinking it wouldn't be busy. Turns out, there was increased security, a police presense, and a line out the door into the parking lot. Why? It was a midnight release of Twilight (gag).

EricJanuary 4, 2011 4:39 PM

I've seen them at Disney every time I've been there, although they are rarely up. Along with watching for theft (probably ineffective), they watch for open parking spots, people having car trouble and help people who forgot where they parked.

As for the people who believe this is a privacy issue, I've stopped at plenty of stores over the years where I wished for barbed wire fences and a guard at the gate. I doubt they have any secret scanners that can see inside your clothes or your car.

Richard Steven HackJanuary 4, 2011 4:45 PM

This is completely useless technology. What do they have there? Fog lights, a megaphone, and some security cameras. What did they have on the roof before this? Fog lights and security cameras.

So now they have a schmuck sitting in this thing during business hours who can yell over the megaphone and report crimes in progress.

And what did the thirty feet give them that a mobile foot patrol wouldn't?

And how long will it be before the vandals wreck the thing's cameras, megaphone and fog lights for an ongoing maintenance nightmare when no one is in the thing?

And what did this completely useless hunk of steel (with power supply for a heater and air conditioner which is a LOT more than some lights and a low-power camera) cost?

And if you deployed these things in a location for crowd control, they'd last like thirty seconds before a mob tipped them over no matter how "locked down" that trailer is.

Stupid beyond belief.

But, hey, the cyberpunk future portrayed in books like Neuromancer and RPG games like Shadowrun is well under way, with corporations increasingly locking down their facilities and treating anyone who is not an employee as a probable criminal.

Every one should watch the new NBC show "The Cape" premiering this Sunday. A corrupt police force and a psycho corporate billionare with his own private police force is opposed by one ex-cop and a blogger. Seems to fit the theme here. And, hey - it's Summer Glau!

Dr. TJanuary 4, 2011 4:49 PM

@Roy: "... Once the sale is made and the shopper leaves the store, the store does not suffer if trouble happens in the parking lot..."

You are completely wrong. Stores and malls die if there is too much crime in the area. The huge Mall of Memphis failed due to reports of increased crime. If there are frequent muggings in a Wal-Mart parking lot, the store will quickly lose business. If lawyers can show that Wal-Mart did nothing to improve customer security on its property, then crime victims (or their surviving kin) can sue Wal-Mart for millions.

Dirk PraetJanuary 4, 2011 5:21 PM

@ Andrew
@ Moderator

Points well taken. Allow me to make a few clarifications:

- Any book, paper or article on physical security from a well respected source should get you going. I actually even found back in my feed archives a short article from Security Magazine on this topic: http://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/best-practices-for-securing-a-parking-lot-or-garage-1 . Although they actually forgot to mention patrol guards, it pretty much sums it up quite well. IMHO, watchtowers do not belong in common public areas such as shopping mall parking lots. I only expect them at military facilities, borders and for other very specific purposes. Not to observe the general public. Try to pull this off in any country that has ever been occupied or has managed to get rid of a totalitarian regime, and you're out of business the next day. US mileage may vary.

- I was not refering to contractor guards, but to consultants and manufacturers that actually come up with watchtower ideas and solutions. However much they can be expected to do so, I honestly don't understand that such an idea can make it through the board of directors. Again, try this in most parts of Europe and chances are that the CEO can come and explain himself to a parliamentary rogatory commission.

- My apologies to Moderator for bringing up the gun issue and for not being more general about it. I should have said weapons control. Over here, you get yourself arrested over any weapon, whether it be a gun, knife, pepper spray or even a screwdriver. As per moderator's request, I'll refrain from elaborating on the issue.

- Last but not least: please do not patronise people for having other ideas than your own. It's demeaning, doesn't add any value to the discussion and is one of the things that got Carl banned.

Bob RobertsJanuary 4, 2011 6:42 PM

The relevant gun control issue being legalization of 30mm grenade launchers? I'll vote for that.

BF SkinnerJanuary 4, 2011 7:27 PM

@Bruce
Let's remember to set context here...this was Judge Napalitano who is or is becoming a fringe paranoid agreeing with everything that Alex Jones throws up; but certainly sells fear. The judge could, however, be the victim of his overly enlarged amygdyla. THe video has a voice over whom we can or can not accept his testimony about WHO put the tower up and WHY and WHERE they got funding. This isn't a journalist but a guy with his camera and an obvious ideology.


@Steve "Walmart is probably worried about thefts from autos and customers getting mugged"
My dad and uncles owned bars for decades. If it (for any given value of 'it') happened in the parking lot they could care less. (they was cops and sherrif deputies btw)

I think Walmart would be very interested in liability limitation.


@Imperfect Citizen creepy visual message "we're watching you,"
My first thought remains "is it effective?" Scare crows don't scare the crows. Bank cameras faithfully record the bank robbers...But then the corvides are clever.

@All ... I once walked through Bryant Park Manhatten in the bad old days (that night there was a machine gun gang fight Tong or drugs was never found out) and was approached by 6 guys with various offers of drugs or other illegal merchandise. 5 yards away from the action one of New York's finest, in uniform, was sitting in a cushman reading a paper.

If an armed officer of the law didn't deter these guys...Do ScareCrows work?

@Roy I won't buy the premise that stores want these.
If they don't have to pay for them AND they reduce premise liability which DOES extend to the parking lot? I'd say Bruce is right.

I think @kangaroo is right as long as the scare crow is novel the crows will freak out but unless they are seen as active and effective they won't deter much.

Now maybe instead of sniper platforms that some would say is a good idea...Maybe if they'er Transformers? They'd reduce crime.

JJanuary 4, 2011 7:53 PM

Lets steer this alittle back to a point -

What concerns me on these posts so far is no one has gone into the COST of these. A local news team here has done a report on these purchased by state and local police departments. ICX Skywatch costs between $45-$150k depending on the setup: http://www.icxt.com/uploads/file/products/brochures/SkyWatch.pdf

The one in this video looked like a stock setup running probably around $50k-65k base +~5k a year in maintenance +salary of whomever sits in it + you have to remember that places like Walmart PAY THE POLICE to place/lease these devices in their parking lots.

As Bruce has always said, why don't we use this money for real intelligence and investigation. Also yes these are used by the military for much much more "involved" activities, in places much more dangerous than walmart. Its ICX using terror as a way to sell products to the public sector. Simple as that.

OrenJanuary 4, 2011 8:15 PM

I wonder how difficult it would be for a group of 10 people to tip one of these things over?

NeighborcatJanuary 4, 2011 8:50 PM

For some reason, I have an urge to fire a magnetic grapple and tow cable at it from my spowspeeder and then fly circles around it...


MagnumJanuary 4, 2011 9:21 PM

"...
you have to remember that places like Walmart PAY THE POLICE to place/lease these devices in their parking lots.

As Bruce has always said, why don't we use this money for real intelligence and investigation.
..."

It's Walmarts money, they get to do whatever they feel makes business sense with it.

Messerjocke2000January 5, 2011 1:31 AM

I think what makes these towers appear so "police-stateish" is the fact that the windows are tinted. So the watchers canĀ“t be watched. You never know if somebody is looking at you or not. So you constantly feel watched.

If you could see the police/guards, it would not seem quite as bad...

RARJanuary 5, 2011 2:23 AM

This would not appear creepy in South African. Due to high cime rates there, people welcome a very visible security presence in public places and in fact it might even be a drawcard for the mall.

Some malls in South Africa have security staff at the mall road exits checking that there is a set of keys in the ignition and that there is no sign of "forced entry" into the car. (to hopefully deter car theft).

It is also quite "normal" in South Africa to have a "Car Guard" guarding 10 -20 parked cars for a very small donation. (The service appears popular and the "fee" seems to be willingly paid by most motorists)


GreenSquirrelJanuary 5, 2011 5:31 AM

Have seen these in the Disney car parks and I must admit my first response was along the lines of "creepy" but giving it more thought ended up with just a "meh."

Strikes me as a massive waste of money - I fail to see what actual effect the box provides. If they were visibly manned it might carry some weight, but the box certainly didnt dissuade me from anything...

GabrielJanuary 5, 2011 7:48 AM

@bill: perhaps, but what is the threat? I doubt anyone's bringing an rpg to walmart. They're simply there to observe. Now if this was the green zone...

All: I do wonder if this is more for liability or consumer assurance. Because it seems like once you have that security system in place, you might be held more responsible if a crime did occurred, whereas a "park at own risk" sign would probably suffice to limit liability. That would however scare some customers away. And without any risk, you can't make a profit.

HJohnJanuary 5, 2011 8:03 AM

Also keep in mind how large wal-mart is. In each individual case, or even as a whole looking in pure risk vs. dollars, the towers aren't worth it. However, one incident could start the dominoes falling. They can argue consistently and correctly that added security measures aren't worth it, but those suing them will put a weeping victim on the stands for an emotional argument. Such an incident could be even more costly than the one settlement or court loss when you fact in loss of customer support and copy cat lawsuit-happy patrons looking to make an easy buck.

I'm not sure how much good the towers do, but I am saying that the considerations go beyond one parking lot of one store. We must factor in that we have irrational and unpredicatble elements in our population and legal system.

Umm...January 5, 2011 8:51 AM

I admire America from afar. (Well, Toronto). The stuff you guys are letting your law 'enforcement' types get away with is alarming to say the very least.

Please start fighting back.

Brent WJanuary 5, 2011 9:26 AM

I think the majority of the comments are misrepresenting Wal-Mart's intentions with the towers. I doubt terrorism, burglary, or career criminals have anything to do with it. Petty crime is a big deal at Malls, Movie Theatres, and (I guess?) Wal-Marts, especially near Christmas when people go from store to store leaving merchandise with receipts in their back seat.

The types of criminals doing this type of crime aren't professionals and will be spooked by the tower. Why bother when the store across the street doesn't have one?

Full disclosure: As a youth my car was broken into during my shift at the mall the week before Christmas, and I had friends who regularly stole car stereos from cars at the local theater. This type of crime is incredibly common but not newsworthy.

DayOwlJanuary 5, 2011 10:46 AM

A woman was robbed at gunpoint for her bus money at the Walmart near my home just last week. It's one of the busiest in the country, but also has a very high loss rate due to shoplifting, to the point where they've considered closing it.

Some Walmarts experience a lot of criminal activity. A tower like this does serve as a deterrent. It's high visibility is its best feature.

As far as video surveillance goes, they'd be hard put to do better than Walmart does itself with the dozens of cameras at every store.

JohnTJanuary 5, 2011 10:58 AM

I checked on these police towers a couple of years ago by asking a manager at Costco, where one particular tower was located.

He told me it was the police who picked the location, not the store. He told me that it was hard to get the police dept to honor a request if the store did request one.

I also asked at other locations. IMO, employees do not know why the towers are there, but make up plausible explanations, such as car thefts, parking lot robberies, etc.

So, employees don't know, and usually management does not request the towers.

Often, the towers are unmanned, but as best as I can tell, the video cameras are not trained on the parking lot but on the nearby freeway and access roads. My guess is that the primary purpose of these towers is to video record license plates.

I call them Dalek towers. I'm not a heavy shopper and often leave Costco or Walmart with only a couple of things. I imagine one day the tower will address me with the dreaded monotone of a Dalek: "You will shop, or be exterminated." To help the economy, of course.

Rick AuricchioJanuary 5, 2011 11:05 AM

@HJohn: "Those manning the [towers] will probably have communication into on site ground security inside of wal mart."

Would police transfer responsibility to private personnel? Are the private guards now considered agents of the police, thus putting police on the hook for rights violations and/or brutality?

@Richard Steven Hack: "And how long will it be before the vandals wreck the thing's cameras, megaphone and fog lights...?"

Even simpler, just damage the power supply to the tower. It must have a self-contained generator.

HJohnJanuary 5, 2011 1:07 PM

@Rick Auricchio: "Would police transfer responsibility to private personnel? Are the private guards now considered agents of the police, thus putting police on the hook for rights violations and/or brutality?"
___________

Fair point. Probably not since you put it that way.

P.S. Thanks for catching my typo.

Mark JaquithJanuary 5, 2011 3:09 PM

I've seen a few of these in the parking lot at Busch Gardens (an amusement park in Florida). It's likely effective at deterring vehicular break-ins. How is it any more invasive than a patrol car, a beat cop, or a mounted cop patrolling an area where there have been a lot of break-ins?

pryJanuary 5, 2011 6:01 PM

This is really nothing new. I can remember elevated guard observation posts in the parking lots for large department stores in the 1950's. They were there for prevent mugging and auto theft and that's most likely why they are returning.

GabrielJanuary 5, 2011 6:35 PM

I wonder if a polar bear could climb up into one of these things? If not, perhaps they need them in the arctic as well.

G-mannJanuary 5, 2011 7:38 PM

Here's the manufacturer's demo video:

http://www.icxt.com/products/icx-surveillance/integrated-platforms/skywatch/SkyWatch-video/

I think as long as these are used only in high-theft areas or for special events and parking control, they are probably a good thing.

I would have loved to have this back in the 90's when I was Security Chief at a Gov't installation that was having an Air Show... that would have made our crowd control duties much easier, but I wouldn't want to see one of these on every corner of my town.

Michael WestJanuary 6, 2011 12:43 AM

I live in Carrollton, TX. A few weeks ago, I was given a tour of the Farmers Branch (neighbor city) police station, where an officer explained some of the department activities, such as the COPs, or Citizens On Patrol. Basically, volunteers for the police (usually people who are retired and have plenty of time), that help around the station and that go up in these towers (they call them "SkyTowers"). These people don't have rights of the police, or the ability to arrest someone, all they can do is radio dispatch and request an officer.
I can't vouch for other cities, including my own, but I think it's highly likely that most departments will have a volunteer program, and those unpaid citizens would be in a SkyTower. My local Walmart has had one of these before, but now hires Yale Enforcement Services (private security) which drives a little car around with flashing lights in the parking lot.
Rather than freely speculating on the purposes of these towers, I wish this man had actually set up an interview with someone from the police department and asked them. That's actually journalism, which this man is trying to do, but his lack of actual sources makes him more like the National Enquirer.
As always, the YouTube comments are the worst of all this.

bob (the original bob)January 6, 2011 6:43 AM

I suspect that very quickly after these things are installed they will be determined to be "too expensive" to man 24/7. Once the nefarious types these towers are supposed to defer realize this, they will usurp the tower as a tool to target victims.

This is kind of like in nature when you see a bird perched on the plastic owl that is supposed to scare away birds.

AnymouseJanuary 6, 2011 10:19 AM

Man, I wouldnt want to sit in this nor park anywhere near it as it looks as it will just tip over in moderate gale.

Who comes up with idiotic designs like these?

rektideJanuary 6, 2011 4:21 PM

WalMart permits overnight parking/camping. Video monitoring kind of makes sense as a defense given what they invite in and the liberties they permit on their territory.

rektideJanuary 6, 2011 4:24 PM

also a whole lot of you need to read Bentham's ideas on Panoptician. the whole idea is that these things dont have to be manned -- they're mirror glass-- and not knowing whether you're being watched makes you far far more paranoid than knowing someone is in fact watching. the original context was prison design.

Mickey MouseJanuary 6, 2011 6:27 PM

Nothing new. Disney has been using these things at the Happiest Place on Earth (TM) for a while now. Lots of cars = attractive target for assholes; plus I assume it helps them help stranded motorists.

Seems to me the guy forgot to take his meds for a couple days.

MikeJanuary 7, 2011 2:06 PM

Watch Towers are what these "creepy unwarranted, privacy invading" things are called. I am a former law enforcement officer and now in security management, who believes these are great tools.

First of all the post is incorrect. They are not paid for by the federal government unless it was given on a grant and then the local agency can use the grant money as they deem fit.

Second, Wal-Mart is not paying to have this on their property. Their lots are still private property and they must request the police department bring the towers there. The department may or may not charge Wal-Mart or any requesting user a fee. That again, is up to the local agency.

Third, many of these posts claim these towers are an invasion of privacy. What kind of privacy do you expect in a PUBLIC parking lot? Reasonable expectation of privacy applies to your own PRIVATE residence. Although Wal-Mart is private property, it is open to the general public for shopping and conducting business just like mall, movie theaters and any other place of business that is not a government building. If you are worried about your right to privacy being invaded, perhaps you should stay at home, with the blinds closed and not come out of the house. Or perhaps you should not be doing whatever it is you are doing in a public parking lot.

These postings say they are creepy and unwarranted. One post sited a claim where a mother and child were murdered and the IMMEDIATE public outcry was for more security and more measures. Here you have a business taking a pro-active approach to deter crime and many of you "bash" them and the police for putting up watch towers. What did you want them to do? Perhaps hiring security officers and off duty police officers to stand guard at each individual car is the answer. Oh wait...then the cost of the products in the store would go up to off set the cost of the additional security. Then you can write a blog about how the store prices dramatically sky rocketed.

To the people who post against the towers, What if your car was broken into? Or you were robbed, or hurt? Would you be crying for more security measures or would you still be against these watch towers?

It is true we do live in the USA. We are not use to the post 9/11 era security and law enforcement measures. We are not living in a pre 9/11 world anymore.

Our enemy is not a conventional enemy. Terrorists are not wearing uniforms and their identity is little known if at all. They could be our neighbors, teachers, co-workers, and perhaps friends. Think about all the terrorists (both International and Domestic) that have been arrested in the United States. They were somebody's neighbor, friend, etc.

It is harder for security and law enforcement to find the "bad guys". The common street criminal is an opportunistic criminal. They will commit a crime that is a good "opportunity" for them. In other words, if you leave your iPod, GPS, and purse in the car in plain view, this is a good opportunity for a criminal to take advantage of.

Many of us do this, and that is why the watch towers, cameras, and increasing security officer presence are needed. These measures were put in place to protect your property and look out for your safety. If people would take time to think about their own security and safety instead of letting someone else worry about and then passing the blame when something happens, then none of these "extreme and creepy" measures would really be needed.

So the next time you see a creepy watch tower, or more security officers, and cameras, instead of saying bad things about it, why not stop and think, perhaps these were put here to make this a safer place for me and my family or loved one to be and enjoy.

Tommy LiJanuary 7, 2011 3:01 PM

No, Potomac Mills does NOT have Watch Towers on the property. I was there a few days ago. Even if they did, it would not keep me from shopping there.

They are there a deterent to crime. Nothing yet, will stop crime, one can only hope to deter it. Good Post for my friend Mike!! I fully agree!!

AlexJanuary 10, 2011 11:11 AM

Mike: You definitely come off as a police officer/gov't type.

Contrary to what the media & goverment spout off about, Terrorism is NOT a threat to the average Joe.
Your chance of having a heart attack this :
YEAR: ~0.4%
today: 0.001%.
Your chance of being killed in a terrorist attack on the very day of:
9/11/2001 was .00000881%.
For comparison, your chance of dying because of a medical error is 0.06%. Given the odds, you were safer being in NYC on 9/11/2001 than your local hospital.

Similarly, the government CAN NOT protect the public from terrorists. Just ask AZ Rep Giffords. They can reduce the risks, but nothing more.

Given these odds, I think all of the "post 9/11 security" is a waste of time and money. The pre-9/11 security measures WOULD have stopped the hijackers, IF THEY WERE FOLLOWED. This year, $8.1 BILLION will be (John) PISStole'd away by the TSA and won't have any meaningful impact on Americans. That's $8.1bn that could be used to create jobs, improve healthcare, etc.

Ultimately, people are responsible for their own security. The best thing the government and the media can do is to help people understand what realistically are threats and how they can protect themselves. I believe Bruce calls this the difference between threat vs. risk. Right now the government, particularly how it is acting, IS part of the problem, not the solution.

RandyJanuary 10, 2011 5:15 PM

I was in Dallas over the holidays and saw these in 4 different parking lots at big box stores.

BounceJanuary 11, 2011 2:33 PM

These first started appearing some 5 - 10 years ago as part of the winter holiday season efforts to reduce car burglaries, purse snatching, and package thefts. They've become more sophisticated over the years like most everything else has. They also seem to be used year 'round so the shops paying for them must have seen a benefit.

MikeJanuary 11, 2011 4:35 PM

Alex,
Those are great stats you have on heart attacks and dying from terrorists attacks. While your at it why dont we compare your chances on being attacked by a shark vs dying in 9/11. Please tell the victims families your statistics. I'm sure that will comfort them.

If you thought the pre 9/11 secruity mesures woudl have prevented this you should take time to read the 9/11 commision report. It clearly points out that the planning for the 9/11 attacks started in 1996 in Madrid, Spain by the Red Brigade.

this information was passed to the CIA however, they chose not to share it with anyone. The federal laws and newly created Dept. of Homeland Security made it a crime for anyone or agencey to withhold any information regaring the safety and security of the United States. YOu are now seeing civilian police Chieves and certain officers with Govt. security clearances so they mave have access to this information in order to protect the citizens better. (I know from experience).

So if you are saying the secruity measures that are put in place post 9/11 cannot do anything to proetec us, well you are wrong. They have been in place and have helped make many arrests of criminals and terrorists.

Lastly you missed the point of the post and the blog. The point is that Bruce feels these watch towers are "creepy" "Police state" like, invasion of privacy, and unwarranted. My responce was in repsonce to each of his and every other person who posted using these arguments. I was not focusing in on terrorist attacks as a total or compairing motrality rates from statistic on medial malpractice vs terrorist attacks. You failed in your post to address my points. They were about safety and security, and why they are here and why the measures are needed.

Perhaps you are amung the many people who do not take responsibility for your own safety, security and when something occurs, blame someone else because that is the easiest thing for you to do. If you are, I thnak you band the many others like you. If it was not for you, people like me and fellow industry bothers and sisters woudl not have a job.

Please next take time to completet READ AND UNDERSTAND the posts before spouting off unrelated medical mortality rate statistics and drawing a comparison. Please cite your sources so I know they are credible facts and not some the ramblings of some backyard thinker. Also next time at least offer a decent rebuttal to the author's posts.

Michael BJanuary 12, 2011 1:52 PM

Our local Citizens On Patrol group (volunteers who are trained by cops and drive around neighborhoods looking for potential problems) were asked if we'd like to take a shift in one of these. It helps reduce crime two-fold - (1) people are in it watching for suspicious activity. If they see something, call and the cops will usually swing by within a few minutes, because there's been a trained observer making the call. (2) even if there's nobody in it, how can you tell? It's up in the air so you can't go bang on the door, and it's all dark windows to prevent identification of the people inside.

Fox News Freedom Watch FTL.

MarcJanuary 15, 2011 7:13 AM

Wow, this would be the ideal job! I could bring a camera with me and take photos of all the hot chicks walking around in the wal-mart parking lot and they wouldn't be able to see me and my camera nor would the chicks be aware I was taking photos of them. Kind of creepy don't you think! They may help deter crime but they can also be misused and there are plenty of people willing to use them for things other than deter crime such as photograph chicks, spy on people, run license plates to find people who haven't paid their property taxes, etc.

JawallabyJanuary 16, 2011 7:56 AM

So...the Police state is the problem but allowing huge corporations to undermine the local economy in almost every town/city in the country is just fine...

Why didn't these same people complain about the way WallyWorld crushed local competition? Why don't we all just stop going to Wal-Mart? I can say that I haven't been to one in roughly 6 years and I don't seem to be suffering any ill effects so far.

Also, has anyone ever looked at the various People of Wal-Mart sites? It's possible that we should consider requesting concertina wire and a one-way gate system. (I will let each of you decide which way the gates will work)

Think about it. Maybe WM could become the new prison system. You wouldn't really need guards, just run a sale on Cheetohs any time the inmates get rowdy.

cod3fr3akJanuary 21, 2011 8:05 AM

I know I got to this a little late, but stepping around the security aspect; what does this say about our culture that we need these types of devices.

I mean this type of escalating violence and crime against both people and property seem to be endemic in western European culture and our country in particular. Not that other cultures don't have pretty serious crime issues, but it seems like here in the US we escalate to every more oppressive forms of security.

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