On Sunday night I was at my computer reading the latest blogs coming in off Topix. One blog in particular was very disturbing, it was from an individual who said he was at “the Westfield Mall, and heard someone was brandishing a gun. A large swath of people panicked and scattered down the escalator where the Managers of Target locked the front doors as a security measure for what appeared to be an hour. Shortly after another blogger concurred that he was at the mall and experienced a similar event.
These issues plaguing our mall are not new, and the New Haven Register this morning confirmed what these bloggers experienced but said the man brandishing the gun originated from the bus stop. One report indicates that while at the Bus stop he threatened to “Pistol whip” his girlfriend.” Another at the Post indicates that he made the threat during a group fight in the food court.
Mall police apprehended the individual and consequentially he was charged with gun related crimes. The incident did not make immediate news because the gun he was brandishing was merely a harmless “air gun.” But to the people in the Mall who were frightened by it that did not matter much.
The Westfield Mall continues to be plagued with security problems that stem from out of town kids engaging in lewd and lascivious conduct. Officers have been hit with food from food fights, a chair, assaulted physically, and broken up large fights.
Officers reported that the youth at the mall are so problematic that they neither respect a badge or a gun. However, he did say they all "respect the taser" and it is the best weapon in his arsenal.
A security officer at the Westfield Mall expressed concern, that these problems of violence may be because Milford is considered “neutral” territory. He said "when rivals from Bridgeport and New Haven attend the mall there is a propensity for conflict to occur."
Shop owners fear that these problems are also effecting the retail establishments in the Mall who also pay handsomely to have the traffic and placement that the Mall offers. Lately the violence combined with the economic downturn has resulted in record high vacancy rates and the Mall owners are struggling to stay in business. One shop owner said "if the youth problems persist, people will be reluctant to shop here."
Last year the Westfield Mall ended up in court, and sued the city of Milford over what they said are excessively high taxes. Mayor Richetelli, after the lawsuit settled and said the “Westfield Mall is of vital economic importance to Milford, and the settlement was worth it. Had the city not settled and lost the case the city would have been forced to immediately pay a substantial amount of money to the owners of the property.” The settlement earned the Westfield Mall a 11% tax decrease, one they said was the result of their property being overvalued by the town assessor. The mall also benefits from a Police HQ annex located in the mall next to Panera's.
Reports indicate that the tax savings was desperately needed given the fragility of the commercial real estate market and the shaky economy.
These assertions are being confirmed daily by a website called www.DeadMalls.com. This site lists the growing number of defunct and struggling malls across the country. In Connecticut Seven are listed in the index, including the Bristol Mall in Bristol Ct., and the long defunct HiHo Mall. (Now occupied by The Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.)
While there appears to be no immediate solution to these youth conflicts at the moment additional changes are being made to the bus policy of the mall. Effective soon fewer buses will be permitted to stop at the mall, and security will be put on high alert to curtail the problem. Loitering will not be tolerated, and aggressive enforcement against shoplifting and disruptive behavior will be engaged.
The mall management has expressly indicated that they are committed to delivering a calm safe environment where shoppers can go and enjoy themselves. While they regret the problems induced by local youth at the Mall they assure the public that every reasonable effort is being made to stem the tide of mischief.