By Tim Williams

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Keeping holiday shoppers safe is a challenging task for area law enforcement so agencies are turning to their four-legged comrades for help.  As Tim Williams reports, K9 teams are helping patrol Baltimore-area malls through the height of the season.

It is a growing trend–or maybe a growling trend–in the retail industry.  Officer Dan Mero and Bruno the Belian Shepherd are one of two teams patrolling five Baltimore-area malls. On Sunday, they were in Columbia.

K9 units are the newest visible and effective way to send a message of safety to retailers and shoppers.

“He was chosen because he has a temperament that’s very good with all the people that we have here in the shopping center and the children, so it’s a proactive measure to increase our public safety and it’s also very family-friendly,” said mall spokesperson Katie Essing.

Many malls are turning to K9s to combat a perceived decline in respect for police and authority.  Dogs like Bruno supply an added element of backup for the mall and security for customers.

“One thing about a dog is he can sense things.  You know, he can sense the security; he can sense if there is something wrong.  I think it would be wonderful,” said shopper Renee Carson.

“It’s fine.  As long as it’s trained, it should be fine,” said Mike and Emma Russalesi.

Mall officials don’t want to reveal what the dogs can specifically do but say crowd control and sensitive odors like explosives and drugs are on their radar.

“He’s a great approachable dog but is also highly trained,” said Essing.

The teams receive a minimum of 300 hours training.  Patrons are encouraged to pet them and trading cards with pictures are given to kids.  It’s part of an effort to make shoppers feel more at ease.

Lighting and cameras are also helping malls enhance safety features.

This is the first time General Growth Management has deployed K9s in this area but they are already being used in Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.


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