Peace­mak­ers to pro­vide se­cu­rity in wake of Gal­le­ria dis­tur­bance

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Aaron Besecker

On the day af­ter Christ­mas, mul­ti­ple brawls and what sounded like a gun­shot sent crowds at the re­gion’s largest shop­ping mall scram­bling in a panic as some be­lieved there may have been an “ac­tive shooter.”

The scene at the Walden Gal­le­ria was cap­tured on video that went vi­ral.

The day af­ter the in­ci­dent, Cheek­towaga Po­lice Chief David J. Zack sum­ma­rized, “We have a prob­lem that needs ad­dress­ing.”

Nearly three months later, Buf­falo Peace­mak­ers, an anti-vi­o­lence group that works with young peo­ple, has been given an ex­panded role in se­cu­rity ef­forts at the mall. And the Cheek­towaga Po­lice De­part­ment has rec­om­mended that mall man­age­ment ex­pand its parental es­cort pol­icy for those un­der 18.

The brawls among young peo­ple on the evening of Dec. 26 turned a busy shop­ping night at one of the re­gion’s most rec­og­nized des­ti­na­tions into a spec­ta­cle. Po­lice re­ceived 22 calls for fights at the mall that night, but of­fi­cials be­lieve they took multi-

ple calls for the same in­ci­dents. Amid the com­mo­tion, a metal sign in­side the mall fell, caus­ing many to be­lieve they heard a gun­shot. Law en­force­ment agen­cies from across the county re­sponded to the scene. No in­juries were re­ported or weapons re­cov­ered.

In the end, po­lice ar­rested an 18-year-old and a ju­ve­nile, while six other ju­ve­niles were taken to Cheek­towaga Po­lice Head­quar­ters and re­leased to their par­ents.

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math, po­lice pres­ence got a boost at the mall, and mall man­age­ment said it would re­view its chap­er­one pol­icy. Two re­quests for com­ment from mall man­age­ment on Fri­day were not re­turned. The mall is owned by Pyra­mid Man­age­ment Group.

Buf­falo Peace­mak­ers, an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion of vi­o­lence preven­tion groups, now have a reg­u­lar pres­ence at the Cheek­towaga mall. That fol­lows a sug­ges­tion by Zack af­ter the in­ci­dent that the mall con­sider re­de­vel­op­ing its re­la­tion­ship with the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

James Giles, CEO of Back to Ba­sics Out­reach Min­istries, which in­cludes the Buf­falo Peace­mak­ers as one of its com­mu­nity pro­grams, said the mem­bers are of­ten bet­ter equipped than po­lice or pro­fes­sional se­cu­rity to han­dle such skir­mishes.

“It’s just a dif­fer­ent dy­namic, be­cause we know the kids. These are the same chil­dren that we’re deal­ing with on the cor­ners every day that are com­ing out there caus­ing dis­rup­tions,” said Giles.

“We know them. They know that we know them, so there is less re­sis­tance when we say, ‘Lis­ten, y’all, break it up,’ ” Giles added.

Mem­bers of the Peace­mak­ers and other as­so­ci­ated groups have been uti­lized at the mall in pre­vi­ous years, though their mem­bers have pre­vi­ously been vol­un­teers. But they haven’t been uti­lized as much re­cently, Zack said.

The Peace­mak­ers de­scribe them­selves as providers of a proac­tive in­ter­ven­tion pro­gram to break the cy­cle of vi­o­lence in gang-in­volved or atrisk youth. The group works to men­tor young peo­ple, as well as build re­la­tion­ships, gather in­for­ma­tion and me­di­ate gang con­flicts, the or­ga­ni­za­tion says on its web­site.

Zack said he was not fa­mil­iar with the de­tails of the agree­ment, but he said Buf­falo Peace­mak­ers is now paid for its ef­forts.

Giles on Fri­day con­firmed that the new ar­range­ment be­tween the Peace­mak­ers and Pyra­mid Man­age­ment is a paid one. Giles said he col­lab­o­rated with law en­force­ment to de­ter­mine when and how much se­cu­rity cov­er­age would be re­quired by Peace­keep­ers.

As part of its on­go­ing ef­forts, the Po­lice De­part­ment re­viewed in­ci­dent data from the mall from 2013 through last year to see if it could see pat­terns, Zack said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day.

But what po­lice found was lit­tle de­fin­i­tive data. Aside from the busy hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son, the record of dis­tur­bances at the mall is “com­pletely ran­dom,” Zack said.

“Other than this Christ­mas sea­son, it’s a quiet place,” he said.

The de­part­ment will con­tinue to crunch the num­bers go­ing for­ward as it mon­i­tors ac­tiv­ity at the mall, but with­out any data to back it up, Zack said there’s no need to boost po­lice pres­ence at the Gal­le­ria out­side the hol­i­days, when the de­part­ment has tra­di­tion­ally as­signed ad­di­tional per­son­nel.

There will still oc­ca­sion­ally be the “sen­sa­tional” type of events that get cap­tured on video and played on the 6 p.m. news, Zack said, but they re­main “iso­lated in­ci­dents.”

“It makes great TV but it doesn’t paint the true pic­ture where the num­bers, the data paint the pic­ture of what goes on there,” he said.

Parental es­cort pol­icy

The Walden Gal­le­ria’s ex­ist­ing parental es­cort pol­icy is in ef­fect from 4 p.m. un­til clos­ing Fri­days and Satur­days. It re­quires guests un­der 18 be ac­com­pa­nied by a par­ent or guardian who is 21 or older. The pol­icy ap­plies to only those stores that do not have ex­te­rior en­trances.

Cheek­towaga po­lice have rec­om­mended to mall man­age­ment that they look at ex­pand­ing the pol­icy, Zack said.

Though he did not pro­vide de­tails on what he thinks the mall should do, he said any changes should be pre­cisely con­fig­ured to be “as min­i­mal as pos­si­ble.”

“We re­ally have to nar­row it down to what makes se­cu­rity sense with­out dis­rupt­ing the com­merce that takes place,” he said.

The Po­lice De­part­ment has no author­ity to re­quire a change in the mall’s pol­icy, the chief said.

Zack ac­knowl­edged what an ex­pan­sion of the pol­icy might mean for some of the stores and other busi­nesses in the mall – clamp­ing down at cer­tain times could im­pact spe­cific busi­nesses more acutely, which would hit the bot­tom lines of some companies.

“There’s a lot of mov­ing parts here,” Zack said.

The chief said he doesn’t ex­pect to see any changes un­til later this year.

“This will be the big con­ver­sa­tion come next fall, be­cause that’s when the data shows that we have to be­come most con­cerned of a ma­jor in­ci­dent,” Zack said.

In the Dec. 26 in­ci­dent at the mall, 80 to 90 per­cent of the stores “did well” with the lock­down pro­ce­dures, ac­cord­ing to po­lice. Zack cred­ited the reg­u­lar drills con­ducted by po­lice in con­junc­tion with mall man­age­ment.

He also said there’s noth­ing he would change about how po­lice re­sponded to the event.

The de­part­ment did not make mass ar­rests; no­body got hurt; the de­part­ment re­ceived no com­plaints and there were no al­le­ga­tions of mis­treat­ment by of­fi­cers, Zack said.

“For us, that’s a suc­cess,” he said.

The chief also said he be­lieves the com­mu­nity should have a di­a­logue about the im­por­tance of the Walden Gal­le­ria, espe­cially to Erie County’s cof­fers, through the tax rev­enue gen­er­ated there.

When there are high-pro­file in­ci­dents, the mall is seen as “Cheek­towaga’s prob­lem,” Zack said.

“If it goes away,” he said, “it’s ev­ery­body’s prob­lem.” Take Five 10 19 21 24 29 329566264 4

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John Hickey/News file photo

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