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Chicago Ridge officials address mall security concerns

galske and pyznarski photo 1 31 Photo by Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge Deputy Police Chief Brian Galske (at left) and Police Chief Rob Pyznarski discussed safety procedures at Chicago Ridge Mall during a community meeting on Sunday.

By Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge officials strove to reassure residents with safety concerns at a community meeting held Sunday afternoon in Village Hall.

Village Trustee Deb Pyznarski had scheduled the community safety meeting before the Jan. 21 fatal shooting of an 18-year-old man at Orland Square Mall, but said the tragic incident made it more necessary to have police and village officials address the concerns of residents regarding the safety of Chicago Ridge Mall.

She blamed social media for spreading rumors about what went on at Orland Square Mall, and scaring people away from shopping at any mall.

“We don’t want to feed into the fuel of social media that it is unsafe,” Pyznarski said. “We all need to work together to stop that, to make this a better place. Let’s work together. This is a community. Let’s work as a community.”

“It seems obvious that it was a targeted murder, probably related to gangs — although that part has not been proven. These are the types of things that could happen anywhere. It is a different world than 10 or 20 years ago,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar.

Trustees Bill McFarland and Ed Kowalski were also present at the meeting. Worth Mayor Mary Werner was in the audience and joined in the conversation. She stressed the need to be aware of surroundings and secure purses and wallets to guard against theft when shopping.

“Chicago Ridge Mall is vital to Chicago Ridge, Worth and Oak Lawn, and our school districts. We all need to work together as partners. I am a strong advocate for community involvement. Our hope is to give you some safety tips you can take away and to spur some further dialog about how we all work together as a community to make Chicago Ridge, Worth, Oak Lawn a safer place,” said Pyznarski, before introducing her husband, Police Chief Rob Pyznarski.

“We take your input and your suggestions very seriously,” said the police chief, adding that his department has been working very closely with the management of Chicago Ridge Mall during his nine years as chief, and shares residents’ suggestions with them.

Steven Yee is the general manager of Chicago Ridge Mall. Tokar read part of a statement he issued outlining the steps taken in coordination with the village to increase safety at the mall. These include a violence prevention program he said was “created with the village designed to thwart disturbances and violence on the part of young people in large shopping malls.”

“The safety of our guests, shoppers, tenants and employees are our highest priority…another goal is to provide a welcoming environment to everyone,” said Yee.

Yee said that after getting input from village officials and community residents, a youth supervision policy was put in place in February 2015. It requires youths under age 18 to be accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Details about that policy and codes of conduct in place are available on the mall website at www.shoppingchicagoridgemall.com.

Deputy Chief of Patrol Brian Galske, who has been with the department for 30 years, went over the few incidents involving threats of violence at the mall that have occurred in recent years.

He said that after being warned by Chicago police monitoring social media, the department was prepared for a “flash mob” of youths that planned to cause a disturbance at the mall in February 2013.

“We were there to meet and greet them, when they got off buses, and they did nothing and left,” said Galske.

He said another incident that occurred in January 2015, involved a fight in the food court.

“If a fight breaks out, people just stand around and watch,” said Galske, noting that a cook from one of the restaurants banged a pot to disperse the crowd, causing a mad dash for the doors and rumors that shots had been fired. “There were no shots fired.”

“There were a lot of fights in malls in December 2015, but nothing here. And there were no incidents at all (in 2018),” said Galske.

“There is no reason to be discouraged. Our patrol unit is always there (to assist mall security) to step in before anything does happen.”

He and Deputy Chief of Investigations Jim Jarolimek, along with Det. Sgt. Dave Mitchell, who is assigned to a regional SWAT team, pointed out that the police have numerous resources at their disposal if anything did happen. This includes calling on the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS), which gets the Department of Homeland Security involved.

“We have a real good relationship with mall security. Sometimes we get pushback from parents about the age restrictions, but without zero tolerance, it is not effective,” he said.

The police officials said that their department has been receiving training to deal with “active shooter” incidents in malls and schools for the past 12 years, along with all the local departments.

“We call them active killers,” said Mitchell, pointing out guns are not the only weapon.

A video depicting how to respond to an active-shooter incident was shown, and is available for viewing on the village website at www.chicagoridge.org.

When the discussion turned to fighting crime in general, Chief Pyznarski and the elected officials all blamed Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Fox for a policy that allows almost all arrested people to be released with little or no cash bond. Pyznarski said retail theft is not treated seriously enough in the courts, and driving with a suspended or revoked license is often not prosecuted at all.

“But we will keep making our arrests and let the courts handle it,” he said.

Only about 50 people turned out for the meeting, probably because of the cold and snowy weather, but Tokar and Trustee Pyznarski said they would like to hold a similar information session in the near future.

“Maybe we should wait until the snow melts in June,” joked the mayor.

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