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Walden Galleria safety gets a boost with probation officers in mall

Erie County probation officers are carrying police radios for constant contact with mall security and Cheektowaga Police.

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — We recently told you about the new Primark store coming to the Walden Galleria, but since last July there has also been a public safety upgrade at work in the mall on the weekends. 

A special pilot program involving Erie County Probation Officers is up for renewal soon. Some observers told 2 Your On Side it really worked and may pay off for the mall management in other ways.

Perhaps for some, recollections of the large-scale fight involving young people at the Walden Galleria in December of 2018 are an ever present concern and may be keeping them away from going there to shop, eat a restaurant, or enjoy a movie.

Police cars in the parking lots responding to reports of large fights does not help. But what may be helping since July is the mall-paid presence amidst shoppers on Friday and Saturday evenings of two armed Erie County probation officers carrying police radios for constant contact with mall security and Cheektowaga Police. 

Erie County probation commissioner Michelle Olszowy says the idea originally came from Pastor James Giles of WNY Peacemakers, which also has a presence at the mall. He picked it up from the similar program began about two years ago with Onondaga County Probation Officers used at the huge Destiny USA mall in the Syracuse area. 

Olszowy pointed out: "The thought was just additional personnel of a law enforcement nature might serve as a deterrent. Kids who might be convening in groups that maybe need to be dispersed because it might turn into something more serious, so eyes and ears and intervening in a non-confrontational-like de-escalation intervention."

She added: "Some nights when our officers are there, it's quiet. They're just walking the mall. They walk the common areas, having positive interactions with folks, and there's no activity. But other evenings there is activity. You know fights might break out in the food court or outside certain stores."

Olszowy emphasized: "Our role is to de-escalate. Crowd control. Not to get right in the middle. We leave that to CPD and the mall security. Ask people to step aside, maybe pull some folks away from the crowd to try to de-escalate the situation, so yes, we intervene quite often."

But also probation officers really know adults and juveniles who have been involved with the courts and criminal justice system with a goal of keeping them on the right track when they get out.

"Hopefully we're going to know some of these mall patrons and be able to talk to them and defuse, because they're on probation, or they used to be on probation, or they're the mom of someone on probation. And we're going to be able to get involved in conversations with these folks and maybe sometimes de-escalate situations," Olszowy said.

A retail analyst noting increasing criminal behavior and violence at malls around the country says they should consider this approach. 

Burt Flickinger of Strategic Resource Group Insight told us: "With the crime out of control in California, Seattle, Chicago, a lot of those malls, on which some school districts count on for tax revenue, are closing, not because they're unpopular but people don't feel safe."

He added: "By having public safety paramount as it is, and always is here in Western New York, you'll see those malls be a real magnet for merchandising and tourism and really stimulate the economy."

Flickinger says that may especially be the case for the Walden Galleria, which has long been known to be a favorite for shoppers crossing the border from Canada. 



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