BY MICHAEL RICONDA
WEST NYACK – In light of recent terror threats against American shopping malls, Clarkstown Supervisor Alexander Gromack requested on Wednesday that state officials earmark almost $95 million to bolster local police forces and enhance security at the retail outlets.
The plan, which emerged in response to threats made against the Mall of America in Minnesota by the Somali-based Al-Shabaab terror network, calls for state financial assistance to any municipality with a mall that covers 750,000 square feet or more.
“It’s not a secret that municipalities across the state have had to put more and more resources into protecting our malls,” Gromack pointed out. “ The proposal that we are submitting to the governor of the State of New York and our state legislators is a measure that we believe will have an important effect on supplementing the security of malls around the state.”
Under the proposal, smaller malls would receive $2 million, while any mall with over a million square feet of space would receive $2.5 million. In effect, 41 malls in New York State-including local shopping destinations such as the Palisades Center Mall and the Shops at Nanuet-would receive a combined total of $94.5 million.
The money would be specifically designated for new officer hires, not budgetary shortfalls, equipment or other peripheral expenses. Though terror prevention would be an important role for the new hires, they would not be limited to that responsibility and would likely patrol for more common crimes as well.
In Clarkstown, this would mean a total of 10 to 15 new officers could be hired specifically for work at the Palisades Mall and the Shops. According to Town Councilwoman and Deputy Supervisor Shirley Lasker, this could prove vital for local law enforcement officers who currently strain to police two malls and the larger town at the same time.
“We’re stretched to the limit with our police officers as it is,” Lasker argued. “If we got an additional six to seven officers to cover the Nanuet mall and the Palisades Mall, that would free up our officers to do more with our school district and the rest of our community.
The request for state assistance has not been without its critics. Rockland Voice writer Anthony Mele penned an op-ed on March 3 characterizing such plans as unlikely to produce a real increase in security. Instead, he argued calls for boosted officer numbers rather than qualitatively better security would foster an environment of fear and empower terrorists to continue making threats.
Though he did not comment on the article, Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan broadly fired back at criticisms of the plan while speaking at the announcement, calling them “misinformed and irresponsible.”
“Our current police measures in our malls are based on the same principles we use in our schools, government buildings, and other critical infrastructure,” Sullivan said. “They are based on a close working relationship with mall management and security and sound, modern counter-terrorism tactics.”
Threats against malls became a more visible concern in recent weeks after Al-Shabaab issued a video call for “lone wolf” extremists to attack malls in the U.S., U.K. and Canada and mentioned the Mall of America by name. In spite of the threat, the Department of Homeland Security stated it knows of no specific threats to the Mall of America.
Likewise, Rockland Sheriff Louis Falco stated last week that though residents should remain vigilant of suspicious behavior and contact authorities if anything seems out of the ordinary, there are no known threats to regional malls.