New security program sniffs out weapons at Cumberland, Perimeter malls

K9 Handler Stephanie Bong walks through the Perimeter Mall with her German Shepherd trained in weapons detection Friday, March 9, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
K9 Handler Stephanie Bong walks through the Perimeter Mall with her German Shepherd trained in weapons detection Friday, March 9, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

As security measures go, the new weapons detection system at Cumberland Mall is anything but low-profile.

When Jax, a 5-year-old German shepherd, is deployed among the bustling Cobb County mall’s shoppers, he gets a lot of attention. A patrol through the building’s concourses can feel like hanging out with a celebrity as shoppers are constantly stopping Jax and his handler, Officer Stephanie Bong of Allied Universal Security, to ask questions or take pictures.

Jax, who is friendly, energetic and curious, is more than happy to play along. But even in such a distracting environment, he is constantly working, sniffing passersby and keeping his head on a swivel.

K9 Handler Stephanie Bong walks through the Perimeter Mall with her German Shepherd trained in weapons detection Friday, March 9, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
K9 Handler Stephanie Bong walks through the Perimeter Mall with her German Shepherd trained in weapons detection Friday, March 9, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“Most of our security protocol is out of the sight of the public, in back of house,” Cumberland Mall’s senior general manager, Chris McCoy, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “But since this portion is specifically outward-facing, we thought it would be a good idea to formally announce it.”

“This portion” would be Jax, the K-9 officer that now regularly patrols the property. McCoy is excited for people to meet Jax, but he is not willing to share much information about the K-9′s day-to-day routine. He explained that the mall’s security protocols are not shared publicly to keep them from being compromised by would-be criminals.

For example, Jax is not a new hire; he has been a member of the security team for Brookfield Properties, Cumberland Mall’s property management company, since November 2019. He received training in weapons detection early this year and began his new role in March.

What were Jax’s duties before he became a weapons detection specialist? That’s classified.

“We’re not going to go into that,” McCoy said, though his tone was cheerful and he apologized for his caginess. “It may compromise some of the other programs.”

But keeping Jax a secret is not an option as he trots through the throngs of shoppers at Cumberland Mall and Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody, where he splits his time. Both properties strictly prohibit firearms, and Jax has already detected a few concealed weapons during his rounds.

“There have been a couple of alerts,” McCoy said. “The vast majority of our customers abide by our ‘no weapons’ policy, but there may be one or two incidents. But the customers comply at that time as we explain to them that no weapons are allowed.”

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Jax’s new role was announced after multiple gun crimes in the vicinity of Cumberland Mall, including a shootout between two cars that left a 6-year-old boy and three teenagers wounded.

Other local malls have made strides to augment their security in light of a recent increase in violence. In December, Lenox Square added weapons detection gateways at its entrances. The mall was the site of at least seven shootings in 2020.

Phipps Plaza brought in an armed deputy following a horrific shooting that killed a 7-year-old girl.

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Brookfield Properties said the canine weapons detection initiative was not launched because of any specific problem, but “because it is a good, proactive program.”

“We have a comprehensive security program that is constantly evolving,” McCoy said. “We have a great relationship with the Cobb County Police Department, and they have shown us tremendous support throughout the property.”

Chosen for his friendly personality, Jax has so far interacted very well with the public, McCoy said. During his brief photo-op, he was curious about the camera but also seemed eager to get back to work.

He has more than a million square feet of retail space to patrol, after all, and even on a Wednesday afternoon, Cumberland Mall was humming with activity.

“He does a great job for us,” McCoy said. “And, you know, he’s just a beautiful dog.”

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