Disruptive groups of shoplifters at Crossgates Mall give rise to new police detail

The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
Vigilant: Officer John Laviano stands against a railing on the second floor of Crossgates Mall and watches people move through the common areas below. 

GUILDERLAND — Christmas isn’t only a busy time for shoppers. It’s also busy for shoplifters — and police.

About two-thirds of the 622 larcenies reported in Guilderland over the entire year to date have been at Crossgates Mall, said Guilderland Deputy Chief of Police Curtis Cox.

And of those larcenies at Crossgates Mall, about one-fifth have been reported since Thanksgiving Day, Cox said.

“It usually gets busier at this time of year,” he said of the increased number of larcenies during the holidays, “because there are so many people in the stores, and it’s easier for clerks to be distracted.”

A new shoplifting trend at Crossgates Mall involves groups of people — “two or three, or sometimes five,” Cox said — causing a disruption and either stealing items themselves or distracting clerks and customers while others in another part of the store commit the larceny.

“We’ve had reports of throwing clothing racks on the floor, and yelling and screaming,” said Cox. “We haven’t seen it like that till this fall,” he said.

Sometimes the people are observed stealing, he said, and sometimes the theft is noticed afterward. He added that, to be charged with shoplifting, the act itself must be observed; possessing stolen property is a different charge.

There have been reports, he said, of people involved in these incidents running through the mall; in one case, a person ran into a child, Cox said, adding that the child was not hurt.

The age varies, but generally the people engaged in this disruptive behavior are “kids or young adults,” Cox said.

Crossgates Mall still has a parental-escort policy, according to its website, which states that, on Friday and Saturday nights beginning at 4 p.m., shoppers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who is 21 or older. This policy started in 2005, in response to three separate incidents of fights or brawls that police said were gang-related.

The recent incidents are not all taking place at night, Cox said. “Sometimes it’s as early as 10:30 or 11 in the morning,” he said.

In order to prevent injury, the police department has started a new initiative known as Retail Intervention Detail, or RID, Cox said.

Officers in this detail are sent to the mall and placed in strategic areas that have experienced these incidents before, Cox said, so they can be on hand quickly if something happens.

They also work closely with the managers and security staff of some of the stores that have been targeted in the past, listening to concerns and providing them information, Cox said.

Officers explain to managers and security staff how they should respond — remaining vigilant and not being distracted — and let them know about other cases, including where incidents have occurred and what has happened. They also offer descriptions of the people involved.

These officers then encourage the store’s staff to communicate with one another as well — for instance, calling or texting one another if they observe people that resemble the groups police are looking for, and informing staff at other stores to be on the lookout.

“Often it’s the same people that come back,” Cox said. “So, sharing descriptions and what they do makes these people recognizable. So, often they’ll call us, and we are able to be there while this is in progress.”

The Guilderland Police Department works very well with mall management and mall security, who have been supportive, Cox said. “We were all at the table together when this was discussed,” he said.

Cox said that the RID detail is in addition to officer patrols at the mall, which are carried out at the mall’s request and as a form of vendor overtime. Patrol officers, who concentrate on common areas like the food court, are all working overtime, and their overtime pay is reimbursed to the police department by the mall, Cox said.

When Guilderland Police respond to shoplifting calls during their normal workday, the mall does not reimburse the department.

With the RID detail, Cox said, the department has adjusted the schedule of the officers involved, to try to ensure that they are working regular, and not overtime, hours at the mall.

Of the disruptive groups, Cox said, “So far, they haven’t been aggressive toward the clerks.”

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