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Galleria Cops Mix Customer Service, Crime Prevention : High-Profile Arrest Puts Outpost of Glendale Police in Spotlight

August 17, 1989|ESTHER SCHRADER | Times Staff Writer

On most days, being a cop in the Glendale Galleria means biding your time.

In the sprawling city within a city that is one of Southern California's largest shopping malls, the typical bad guys are shoplifters, credit card hucksters and the occasional smooth-talking jewelry thief. Police officers patrolling the mall know that figuring out a crime has occurred is half the battle.

So when two robbery suspects tried to lose themselves in the mall last week after leading police from three departments on a 45-minute, high-speed chase from Long Beach, the chain of events they set off was more than a bit unusual.

Routine Patrol Interrupted

Glendale Police Officers Stephan Poulter and William Maupin were walking their routine patrol in the mall when an excited man approached them Aug. 9, alerting them that two men were wandering the mall carrying a large plastic trash bag. The bag, the man said, was filled with cash.

When Poulter and Maupin caught up to the pair, the men took off at a run and the officers dashed after them. Poulter, a marathon runner, caught one suspect as he tried to slip out a mall entrance. He pushed the suspect to the ground and drew his baton, according to a police report.

The other suspect, standing behind Poulter, drew a .38-caliber pistol, pushed it against Poulter's ribs and ordered Poulter to freeze, according to the report.

With a reaction he later said was almost purely reflex, Poulter knocked the pistol out of the suspect's hands as Maupin rushed in and helped Poulter apprehend both men.

Robbery Suspects

The officers arrested Michael Bourne, 21, of Long Beach and Miguel Gigliano, 21, of Alhambra, on suspicion of committing a robbery in Long Beach. Poulter and Maupin said they were unaware that outside, helicopters were circling, police and sheriff's cars had surrounded the mall and a crowd of 300 had gathered.

"Wednesday was the Super Bowl here," Poulter said. "We didn't know we were invited to play."

The high-profile arrest has thrown a spotlight this week on the seven-person Glendale Police Department substation in the Glendale Galleria. But usually, the police who patrol the Galleria work more quietly, tracking crimes they say are intriguing but hardly the stuff of police drama.

"By its very nature, retail crime is hard to identify because it looks innocent," said Sgt. Mark Distaso, the station's commander. "Nobody's getting beaten up, nobody's getting held up with a gun, there's no purse snatched, but that credit card that's just been used to buy $1,000 worth of stuff might not be good. You just don't know."

The substation, established in 1982, was the first permanent police station in a mall in Southern California. The station, a small wood-paneled office near a mall entrance, has a small-town sheriff's station feel. And the officers assigned there say they function as the police force for a small, enclosed city, where making people feel safe is almost as important as actually catching thieves.

120 Arrests a Month

That is not to say the substation is not busy. The police in the mall make about 120 arrests a month, and shopping center thefts total between $7 million and $14 million annually, said Distaso, who has been in charge of the substation for 18 months. With an average of 16,000 people visiting the Galleria's 169 stores daily, at least a few end up being booked at the substation and held in its cells each week, Distaso said.

In addition to the police substation, the Galleria maintains its own security force. But the mall's security officers are not armed and do not have arrest powers. Security officers patrol parking structures to watch for car break-ins and walk the corridors of the mall to discourage shoplifting, Distaso said.

Donated Space

The Galleria substation operates on a $500,000 yearly budget. The mall's owners donated the office space and designed and furnished the station. The Glendale Police Department built three temporary holding cells and supplied the station with office equipment, including sophisticated computers used to track criminal records of suspects almost instantly.

But much of the time, police in the Galleria investigate misdemeanors. The Glendale Galleria is one of the safest malls in the Los Angeles area, Distaso said. So far this year, only two people have been arrested there on suspicion of robbery. No one has ever been murdered in the mall and aggravated assaults are rare, Distaso said.

In the absence of violent crime, police who work in the Galleria spend much of their time fielding questions from lost shoppers and concerned shopkeepers, running crime prevention seminars for store owners, and roaming the mall's 30 acres in plainclothes and in uniform watching for suspicious people.

8 Years Ago

The substation had its genesis in discussions eight years ago between the Galleria management and the city of Glendale, said Sgt. Dean Durand, the substation's first commanding officer who is now the spokesman for the Glendale Police Department.

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