Does Paul Blart: Mall Cop live? Only on the video screen, according to Mall of America's Emergency Operations Captain Heidi Buegler. She confesses to owning a DVD of the film and watching it at home with her kids on occasion, when they're not busy watching her on TLC's new series 'Mall Cops: Mall of America.' Her real-life duties as a mall security officer are far more serious -- and far more bizarre.
Sometimes, however, life imitates art. The mall cop movie 'Observe and Report,' starring Seth Rogan, featured a naked guy running around the mall -- and sure enough, one of the more difficult situations Patrol Division Manager Will Bernhjelm had to face was confronting a nude mall visitor, subduing him and getting him into a holding area while trying to keep patrons from being disturbed.
It's all in a day's work for those responsible for security the country's largest mall, located in Bloomington, Minn. With more than 500 stores, a 7-acre indoor theme park, a 1.2 million-gallon aquarium, a secondary school, a wedding chapel and huge, celebrity events in 4.2 million square feet, the Mall of America is a small city -- and needs to be protected as one. They get over 120,000 service calls per year, which is actually more than those received by the police forces in many U.S. towns.
Goofy slackers need not apply
Officer Bernhjelm explains that this is no place for bumbling slackers, as the films depict. Each officer is required to undergo 400 hours of training before being allowed to work alone. Many have EMT, CPR and first aid training, and still others have learned Krav Maga, the official self defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces. There's actually a police substation on the premises, but the mall security officers are often the first responders.
And get this: They're in constant contact with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security -- both are very impressed with the security department's handling of extreme emergency situations. If there is a shooter or some other violent threat to mall guests, store owners go immediately to the front of the store, get as many people as possible into the store, close and lock the doors, turn off the music and lights, shepherd the people into the back room and barricade them in, as far away and as secure as possible from the threat. They practice this procedure every month, except in November and December, so that everyone will be familiar with it if it ever has to be implemented. So far, it never has.
Loving the job... and finding love on the job
One of the most interesting and surprising things about mall security jobs is the fact that it's a great job for working moms, according to officer Buegler. "I've been doing this for 10 and a half years," she says. "I love working with kids, and I have lots of opportunities to do that." She admits the biggest drawback is probably the uniforms, which are "not to flattering around the hips." She acknowledges that the scheduling can be tricky, but her boss takes families into consideration -- especially Buegler's, since her husband works in Mall of America Security as well.
"We actually met on the job," she laughs. They worked a mall special events together, and gradually fell in love. Now they have four children, ages 2-13, who appreciate the special breaks they get on the amusement park rides and in other areas of the mall. "To be honest," Buegler confesses, "There are challenges to working with your husband -- especially when you outrank him. But he does completely understand when you have down days."
Bernhjelm is single, and says the job suits him perfectly at this time in his life, although he might be tempted to move on to another branch of law enforcement someday, as about 80 percent of the mall security staff does, he says. But for now, "it's challenging and rewarding, and there's something different every day." He notes that there are several different and distinct branches of mall security, including foot patrol officers who walk more than eight miles per day; bike patrol officers who ride outside in brutal in Minnesota winter weather; K9 units that include three explosives-detection dogs; and a RAM unit, which stands for Risk Assessment Management.
After finding out how qualified and dedicated these officers are, it kind of makes you want to tip your hat to them -- although they'd rather not tip their hats to you: It seems that their uniforms don't have many pockets, so officers often carry things like maps, mall facts, etc. in their hats. Ask them a tough question about the mall, and they will literally pull the answer right out of their hats.
Take a sneak peak at TLC's 'Mall Cops: Mall of America.'