Last week, I traveled down to Orlando, Fla. for a preview of the ASIS International conference in September. We took some incredible tours including a behind-the-scenes look at Kennedy Space Center, just days before the second-to-last shuttle launch (see story here), Daytona International Speedway (story here), and the upscale Mall at Millenia (story here). We also had the opportunity to participate in some military simulation training programs with Cubic Defense Applications, which resulted in one of the best adrenaline rushes I've had in a while. They let us "drive" hummers through simulated streets of Afghanistan (it felt so real I got a little motion sick) and shoot "real" weapons (equipped with lasers) while running down an abandoned alley. When I "died" I'm pretty sure my heart stopped beating and I will forever have the image of that guy pointing a gun at me appearing out of nowhere. It was a pretty awesome day, especially since we ended it with a quick stop at the Harry Potter theme park ride at Universal. It is Orlando after all.
As you might be aware, Orlando is an epicenter of tourism. We sat down with some folks from Visit Orlando who told us that the region has 50 million visitors a year, who spend $30 billion. And it's not just people here to see Mickey, either. Orlando has the second largest convention center after Las Vegas.
One of the most interesting discussions was some of the unique challenges that such a high-tourist area presents to law enforcement. Orlando Police Department has a special unit dedicated to tourist-related issues, aptly called Tourist Oriented Policing or TOPS. I wrote about the challenges of a similar department in Anaheim, Calif. for the ASIS seminar in 2009, which focused on how police deal with the constant influx of people to the area.
Corporal Marcus Camacho with the Orange County Sheriff's Office emphasized how crime can impact not only the experience of that person, but it can also have widespread economic impacts on the area. For example, if someone gets their wallet stolen they probably won't come back any time soon, but they'll probably tell their friends and family about that experience and perhaps dissuade those people from visiting the area.
The TOPS department also focuses on being a liaison between private businesses and the police department. They host an online briefing board with information on crimes and suspects as well as ongoing scams. As I said earlier, there are some unique issues in being a tourist town. The police deal with theme-park ticket scams, for example, which would be expected. But one of the most unique scams involves bogus pizza fliers. These scam artists will enter hotels and put pizza fliers under guest doors. If someone orders a pizza they will often try to get a credit card number over the phone. Or, even worse (I think), is when these scammers will actually deliver pizzas that were made in a car or nearby area that are unsanitary and frankly, just gross. Then, of course, guests aren't happy and call the hotel guest services, who in no way promote or allow these fliers to be distributed. It sounds sort of trivial, but it was surprising how many people referred to the pizza flier scam during our visit.
Hotels and law enforcement have also been dealing with a rash of pranksters who call hotel guests and convince them to do the most outrageous tasks, including trashing their rooms. This article in the Orlando Sentinel highlights a ridiculous scenario:
A woman in a hotel took a call from the person who claimed to be a front-desk clerk about a gas leak in their hotel room near Orlando International Airport. She frantically relayed the information to her husband, who was a deputy, mind you. He followed the caller's instructions . . . and smashed the window of his room with a toilet tank.
And he kept following the guy's instructions:
Break the mirror on the wall. Check.
Use the lamp to bash in the wall to get to the trapped man on the other side. OK.
Throw the mattress out the window and jump for safety. Out the mattress went.
And the caller hung up. Guess what? It wasn't someone from the front desk and when a hotel employee showed up, they informed the couple that there wasn't a gas leak. But the room was destroyed. These are the types of issues police are dealing with and a big part of their job has been to educate businesses and tourists about such scams. It sounds ridiculous and outrageous, but such scams have a huge impact on tourist areas.
My advice to you during the ASIS International Seminar on Sept. 19-22 is not to order pizza from your room and don't break any windows, even if someone tells you to.