The reason these rent-a-cops are usually infuriating and not in the slightest bit intimidating is that they selectively choose to enforce the most insignificant, petty rules at the most inappropriate moments just to prove to themselves that they still have any sort of power or that they're not completely irrelevant.

Examples of this include the situation the above writeup describes (although going shoeless in a public place is a borderline unhealthy thing to do -- your feet may be clean, but just imagine what other people's shoes have tracked onto that floor!), a mall cop scolding you for walking the "wrong way" in an otherwise completely empty line or hallway, or for remaining in an area for "too long" (he'll call it "loitering", you'll call it "waiting for my wife/girlfriend to finish shopping in that store over there").

Mall cops are normally intended to assist business owners and law enforcement in protecting the mall's property, and the property of its tenants. With most stores employing their own security equipment (those annoying pedestals that beep when you leave the store, exploding dye tags, etc.) and sometimes even their own security staff, and with real police officers making frequent appearances at malls when needed, a mall cop's job gets pretty boring.

They respond to this by not-to-subtly harrassing people they don't like, judging solely on appearance, or rarely, on some random act of harmless teenaged mischief. They follow people (in an obvious manner) through the mall if they look weird. They try to stop people who try to take pictures of anything (with either a camera or a camcorder). They randomly approach teenagers, even those who are actually buying something, and demand to know what they're doing. They attempt to wield power when they honestly have very little.

Mall cops, like other rent-a-cops, tend to have no actual powers or authority above that of any other company employee. In many cases they have no form of specialized training to help them do their jobs. They are not real police officers, and as such have no legal authority to arrest or otherwise detain a person, even if a mall cop witnesses a crime. "Regular people" know this, and resent mall security for being a bothersome nuisance that slows down and detracts from the shopping experience. Criminals know this, and barely even factor in mall cops into their plans to shoplift and pickpocket people. Mall cops know all this, and quickly learn to hate their jobs and their powerless position, stop caring about their work, and treat everyone with equal disdain and distrust.

Special care must be taken to avoid these creatures when a local ordinance actually does grant some kind of official power (Nevada casino security personnel are legally permitted to detain and question anyone suspected of committing a crime, for example), because abuse of that power is common.

Taunting "mall cops" is not a good idea, unless you know exactly where the limits of their authority are, and stay well away from them. Chances are, however, they know the law better than you, and it's not what you think.

In New Mexico, private security is licensed by the State, just like doctors, lawyers and accountants. This disqualifies, for example, anyone with a criminal record. Private security may carry firearms (but then again, so can everyone else in New Mexico, as long as you strap it on your hip and keep it in plain view, and you are not in a bar or a courthouse).

Commissioned public police, as well as private security, can be sued for false arrest. The standard is the same in every case: whether the arresting officer had probable cause to believe that the person arrested had committed a crime. Citizen's arrests (including arrests by mall cops) are held to a slightly higher standard, requiring probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed (not merely a petty misdemeanor).

The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony can be subtle. This is where knowledge of your local law can make all the difference. Where I live, petty theft is not a felony, grand larceny is. The difference is the value of the items. The value necessary to make shoplifting a felony in New Mexico is surprisingly small: US$250. Attempting to make off with a nice jacket or pair of shoes could be a felony.

Similarly, simple assault is a petty misdemeanor, but aggravated assault is a felony. Simple assault can consist of merely "the use of insulting language toward another impugning his honor, delicacy or reputation", whereas aggravated assault requires using or brandishing a deadly weapon, or, oddly enough, "wearing a mask, hood, robe or other covering upon the face, head or body" (since a criminal intent to inspire fear of injury is also required, insulting people while clothed is probably not aggravated assault, though the statute taken literally does suggest that.) Thus, if you go to a mall in Albuquerque and insult the mall cops while wearing gang colors, they can and will arrest you and deliver you to the City police or County sheriff.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Disclaimer: IANYL: (I am not your lawyer.)

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