GUILDERLAND — Crossgates mall will pay the town to hire two new police officers and create a steady police presence in the region’s largest shopping center in the wake of a handful of violent incidents.
Mall operator Pyramid Management Group and the Guilderland Police Department announced the deal Tuesday. They said it was the result of lengthy discussions that followed a spate of shoplifting incidents around Thanksgiving 2018 that were more disruptive and violent than the standard thievery.
The Police Department has long had a substation in the mall for use as needed, would sometimes have officers walk through as part of their patrol duties in the eastern zone of town, and has off-duty officers on site in uniform as requested by the mall, at the mall’s expense.
The community enhancement pilot program, as it’s being called, goes beyond this, said Deputy Chief Curtis Cox. It will station two officers on site as a preventative measure against crime but also as a community-building effort within the mall — becoming part of the landscape and getting merchants to work together to prevent crime.
The department has been doing this for a year as resources were available, he said.
“It’s community policing within the mall,” Cox said. “In the year we’ve been doing it on a part-time basis it’s been very successful.”
The Police Department will have the ability to pull the two officers out of the mall when circumstances elsewhere require.
Crossgates has been the scene of several violent incidents, including brawls caught on cellphone video, gunfire that injured no one but rattled many people, and just last week, a stabbing.
“All in all, over the number of years it’s been open, it’s very rare,” Cox, a town police officer since 1984, said about violence at Crossgates.
“Each of these events tend to be different circumstance” but usually involves adversaries with pre-existing disputes.
“This last thing was two girls who knew each other and came upon each other,” he said of the Valentine’s Day stabbing, which resulted in felony charges against an Albany teenager.
The spate of shoplifting incidents in late 2018 that originally prompted this new police initiative was not the same level of violence, more a matter of the shoplifters throwing things around instead of skulking away quietly with their swag, Cox said.
The Guilderland Police Department is increasing its ranks of sworn officers from 38 to 40 under the agreement; one new officer was just hired and a second will be hired next week. Under a three-year contract, the mall will pay their starting salaries (a combined $107,000 a year) plus pay increases in the two following years. Cost of benefits is not covered by the contract.
Crossgates generates over $7 million a year in property tax payments. The most recent billing cycle included $6.89 million for the mall itself, $375,000 for the Macy’s store (which is owned by that company) and a few thousand dollars each for a dozen small parcels sprinkled around the site, owned by Pyramid or a subsidiary.
The bulk of that money went to the Guilderland Central School District, with smaller amounts to the county, the town, the town Highway Department, the Westmere Fire Department and other entities.
In a news release, Crossgates General Manager Michael Gately said the agreement announced Tuesday is only part of the larger picture: “Going forward, we will continue to work together to analyze best practices and implement new programs to ensure that the actions of a few do not impact the experience of many.”
Pyramid also operates New York state’s largest mall, Destiny USA in Syracuse. Destiny USA has seen high-profile violence recently, with one person shot and another stabbed in unrelated incidents shortly after Black Friday.
A Syracuse Police Department spokesman on Tuesday said that city police officers will work overtime details at the mall some afternoons or weekends but there is no dedicated police presence on site. There have been discussions between management and police in the wake of the late 2019 violence but no decisions have been made, he said.
Meanwhile, just two miles from Crossgates, Colonie Center has been not seen the same types of crime, Colonie Police Lt. Robert Winn said Tuesday.
Town police are at the Wolf Road mall quite often, but primarily for traffic accidents and shoplifting, he said. Off-duty town police officers will patrol the mall at peak hours at the request and expense of mall management, but that’s more to preserve order than prevent violence.
“We certainly have not had the problems that Crossgates mall has had,” he said.
Crossgates mall is larger than Colonie Center and has a wider range of merchants and attractions, Winn notes, but he doesn’t know if that’s the deciding factor in why the Colonie mall has avoided violence.
“We’re kind of thankful that it’s not here,” he added.