On the first Sunday of the school holidays, intu Lakeside was busy. Not Christmas busy, so busy that no matter how many car park places the shopping centre has, there aren’t enough, but busy enough for you to look anxiously around the food court on the top floor for a seat to eat. At the escalators below was a uniformed police officer with a sniffer dog, and a second officer, as the last Project Servator deployment of the day on the first anniversary of Essex Police’s use of the Servator patrolling method at the West Thurrock-M25 shopping mall.
For a 100-second video of Inspector Tony Adams and Pc Laura Stellon at the top of the escalator describing Servator on Sunday afternoon, visit the Essex Police Facebook Live site.
Something about a dog always draws people, and so it was here; shoppers in steady ones and twos went up to the animal, to pet it. On a digital advertising board beside them, on of the recurring adverts besides for the usual consumer goods was an adapted ‘see it say it sorted’ security message, that asked people if they saw anything they weren’t sure about or comfortable with to contact intu staff – who were conspicuous and plentiful enough, whether security or cleaners, in their bright blue waistcoats.
At the top of the escalator was Insp Tony Adams of Essex Police‘s operational support unit (OSU). He told Professional Security of how it had taken some work to get the Servator ad on those boards – as the wording had to be just right for the shopping centre owners; and it had to have the permission of the company that runs the advertising boards, for each Servator message that comes up as a public service means fewer commercial adverts, and less revenue. Hence, he said, it took some time, but was ‘not insurmountable’. That was one sign – as was the very presence of police, even armed police on occasion as part of some Servator deployments – of a changed attitude among intu and other mall owners. A police presence beside the mall’s own security officers is not only not off-putting to shoppers; after the Paris 2015 and other terror attacks on public places, it’s now required for malls to show that visitors can feel safe and comfortable.
Various mixes of Servator ‘assets’ – including an Essex Police drone, an area that the force is keen to be leading on – were deployed that day, from opening of doors at 11am (and indeed before). The aim was as in other places using the Servator method, including Stansted Airport in Essex’s own area: to be unpredictable, and to deny, deter and detect. Any ‘hostiles’ will invariably visit the place that they are thinking of attacking. If they find a Servator deployment in progress – and part of the unpredictability is that Servator is not only for the most busy times of day and week – they will wonder what is going on and will be disturbed, and even detected. Besides uniformed police officers (in varied numbers) there are plain-clothes ones also. And while the dog was attracting attention at the bottom of the escalators, at the top were two uniformed, peak-capped officers.
While it was not spelt out to Professional Security what the two men were doing – the details of Servator are understandably not made public either by forces or by the official Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) – you could guess that the men, with their backs to the food court and a view down the mall as far as the Debenham’s department store at the lake end, were not there to think about what they could have to eat. They were standing there as a visible reassurance to the public, and to look for anything out of the ordinary, such as anyone spooked by the sight of police.
As Insp Adams told Professional Security, part of Servator is to encourage others – in Lakeside’s case, the mall staff, bus drives and Royal Mail deliverers – to be ‘eyes and ears’ and to report anything they see that looks suspicious or just out of place from the norm. Lakeside and indeed Stansted have their retail and airport particularities, and Essex Police are leading on each and other forces are taking a look with a view to bringing in the Servator method in their areas; and Essex are working on bringing Servator to at least one other similarly high-profile place in the county.
On a personal note, like others at places Professional Security has visited since 2013 that have taken up Servator – the City of London, Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, at mainline railway stations, and earlier this year Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria – the police are enthused about Servator, for its considered use of ‘assets’, its attention to detail and involving of others for the common good. At intu Lakeside as elsewhere, Servator is not only about countering terrorism. On that Sunday’s deployment as at others that Professional Security has witnessed, other crimes cropped up. For example the use of Lakeside’s CCTV (pictured, the mall’s clock tower beside some of the car parking) with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) threw up someone driving without insurance, and someone with a cannabis joint.
As Insp Adams summed up Servator: “It’s a gig for everyone.” Even, though they aren’t meant to enjoy it, the criminals.
For more on Essex Police and Servator visit https://www.essex.police.uk/about-us/project-servator/. For more on the first anniversary of Servator at intu Lakeside, click here.
More words and pictures in the September 2017 print issue of Professional Security.