MOA security officers star in new cable series
Bloomington, Minn. (AP) — The tomato that pelted a police officer during Sarah Palin's recent visit to the Mall of America was captured on film and every juicy detail will play out on a new cable series headed to TLC.
The network best known for "Jon & Kate Plus 8" has high hopes for "Mall Cops: Mall of America." The show is expected to premiere in the spring - possibly on Monday nights in "Jon & Kate's" old time slot. A one-hour pilot, which documented an appearance by teen star Demi Lovato, a lost child and a shoplifting incident, drew more than 1 million viewers in October.
"There's more to mine there," said Nancy Daniels, TLC's senior vice president of production and development, shortly before Christmas. "Everyone can relate to going to the mall - especially this time of year. We want to see what really happens at the Mall of America - what they have to deal with on a daily basis."
On a Saturday in December with the parking ramps filled to the roof, they dealt with everything from crowd control at an autograph signing by a trio of Ultimate Fighting Championship stars to helping a man with special needs get $20 out of an ATM. Around 4 p.m., security picked up a Twitter post by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco that said he was headed to MOA. He changed his plans at the last minute, but the mall cops were already prepared for a potential scene.
"These guys take their jobs seriously," said "Mall Cops" producer Eric Streit. He's the man behind another TLC hit, "Little People, Big World." "They're saving lives and keeping people safe. They're heroes - and no one sees it."
That's partly because the Bloomington mall has never let the public see what goes on behind the scenes at the nation's largest shopping and entertainment center. But Doug Reynolds, who took over the security department three years ago, wants to be more open - both to credit his staff and to prevent crime.
"There are a lot of stories that need to be out there: our K-9 unit, the amount of training. It's unheard of at other malls," Reynolds said. "I don't think most people get that."
The Mall of America is in a league of its own, with a direct line to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a K-9 unit with bomb-sniffing dogs. MOA draws 40 million visitors a year - 180,000 just on Black Friday - and employs more than 100 security officers, many of them retired military personnel or aspiring police officers.
Like officer Beau Johnson, 25, who hopes to go into law enforcement when he graduates from college. The cameras have taken a liking to the outgoing mall cop, who had the good fortune to be first on the scene when three guys dressed like characters from the movie "Ghostbusters" - complete with energy packs on their backs - showed up at the north entrance. They said they were making a YouTube video.
Just another Wednesday afternoon at MOA.
Accustomed to protecting celebrities from the media glare and dispersing crowds, Johnson said it's been an adjustment to have the cameras turned on him.
"Woo hoo, mall cop!" a passerby hooted as the cameras followed Johnson patrolling the first floor.
"You feel the pressure with cameras and 16 people behind you," Johnson said. (Each film crew includes a cameraman and sound person, an assistant to obtain releases from anyone captured on film and a representative from the mall's publicity department in case dicey issues arise.)
"I'm trying not to let it go to my head," Johnson said.
There was a bit of showboating at a directory kiosk: With the camera rolling, Johnson jumped into the fray to direct weary shoppers to the food court and J.Jill. That's not part of his usual routine, he admitted. But sweeping restricted areas is part of the job: Johnson came down hard on a Caribou Coffee employee who didn't wear his mall badge to take out the trash.
"We really do that," Reynolds said. "After 9/11 we put in a lot of checks and balances and we've had some positive results. Shoplifters used to duck into those back corridors. Now they're thwarted. It doesn't take more than one or two encounters for employees to take us seriously."
TLC ordered a dozen 30-minute episodes of "Mall Cops." Of course, it's not every day the mall gets a man falling down an escalator (it happened on Black Friday) or a tomato being thrown at a politician.
"I asked a producer just last week if he thinks he'll find enough material to make it interesting," Reynolds said. "He pointed out that TLC has an entire show about a guy who makes cakes."
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press