Time for a Velvet Hammer? Gun Shots, Destiny USA Mall and the Sensationalism of Media Coverage

No one has to be convinced that something’s been occurring not only here in Syracuse, but across the urban landscape of America.  Incidents in cities involving guns; fights, robberies, etc. have increased.  Nothing could be further from the truth when shoppers at Destiny USA were evacuated, and the 10th largest Mall in America was forced to close its doors early on Saturday evening.

Immediately, the hand wringing and finger pointing began, on local news and social media.  Two television stations went back into the bad-news-time-machine, dredging up prior incidents at the facility, like toxic sludge from the remnants of Marley’s Junkyard. What purpose does it serve,  other than scaring current and potential shoppers.

If a city had a downtown the size of this enclosed mall, that downtown would be subject to this type of criminal activity. Prior to Destiny USA’s expansion and rebranding, law enforcement, probation and others met to discuss the impact of the expanded mall on crime. The question becomes what did they do if anything about the anticipated challenges?

An overhead view of Destiny USA before the expansion matched the retail footprint of a vibrant downtown Syracuse, at its peak around 1959. Since then, 60,000 people used the highway to leave. In the decades since, retail has returned to the city of Syracuse, when you have a large number of visitors per year, it creates a retail presence replacing a traditional downtown, close to 300 stores and venues under the cover of a mall. That’s 2,400,000 sq ft, with over 5,000 parking spaces.  According to tripping.com, in 2021 Destiny USA was one of the top 20 most visited shopping centers in America, attracting over 26 million visitors .

If this surge in crime were occurring in downtown Syracuse, the solution would be simple, increased visible presence of law enforcement.  With malls being private property, security becomes their responsibility.

Downtown Syracuse during its modern peak. ( photo OHA)

It’s not as simple as placing a Police substation inside. What have malls across the country done to reduce crime on their properties? Our community’s problems extend far beyond the confines of Destiny USA.  We have neighborhoods that could use a substation for Syracuse Police, if that is determined to be part of the solution.  Don’t just concentrate on the mall, crime is a concern city-wide.

Those in the ministry with all due respect, “taking to the streets to save these kids” becomes a prescription for an illness, when it’s become too late for a cure. Children have guns, adults have guns, people are taking their conflicts to other parts of our community.  At what point do they void their rights to be among us, in our community? At what point does a person require detention? It’s a difficult call, as judges have discretion whether to incarcerate someone prior to trial.

Once a person picks up a gun or creates a situation that is potentially unsafe for others, time for negotiating is over. This becomes an ultimate safety issue for our entire community.  It will take a combination of initiatives to combat the surge in violence and other crimes in our area.

Don’t Blame it on “Bail Reform” 

Now, the aforementioned issues have been conflated with bail reform and criminal justice.  The fear is real, it didn’t take SU Basketball Coach Jim Boeheim’s wife Juli being robbed to place attention on security at the mall. Any incident that involves violence or the threat of violence will become fodder for media coverage.

As a city that boasts about having the largest mall in New York State, treat it like the large size facility that it is. This is a little city within a city that attracts millions, seemingly protected by Mayberry’s television Sheriff’s Andy Taylor and Barney Fife. No slight intended against “security staff” but this is placing far too much responsibility in the hands of people, perhaps not equipped to handle these security situations we’ve seen repeat themselves.

The New York State Fair handles more than 100,000 people on any given day, security is tight with a combination seen and unseen deterrents like undercover State Troopers. Do we require an armed camp or do we resist enforcing our freedom to roam unchecked? These are questions that require our immediate attention.

Some have suggested a Police Substation, others are recommending that our city’s Pastor’s take to the streets in an effort to save our youth. There has to be a commonsense solution to securing such a large facility. Making the mall common areas public; therefore, the Syracuse Police can enforce existing laws using their presence as a deterrent, a way of sending a message that certain behaviors will no longer be tolerated.

Intrusive yes, but perhaps it’s now necessary, the mall could use scanning technology to get every license plate that enters their property. They could have police patrolling the parking lot areas, just as they would a vibrant downtown. Good old fashion metal detectors at the doors could be another level of deterrent. In addition to having a booth giving stamped free parking passes as you enter the garage. Creating these multiple points of contact could create an atmosphere of safety.

If people committing these crimes against civility were remorseful, they’d consider the harm done to innocent people by their behaviors.  They aren’t, therefore, it’s time for the velvet hammer. Unfamiliar with the term?  In one definition, “The velvet hammer packs a firm punch, but it does so in a softer way. It emphasizes that you have the recipients’ best interests at heart.”