Underground, After Hours: Grapevine PD and the Unseen Benefits of Grapevine Mills
27 Oct 2023
Around this time last year, Officer Michael Diciero took a seemingly regular break at Grapevine Mills. Assigned to the overnight shift, he’d made a habit of logging a few laps around the sprawling shopping center around 4:00 am every night. Treadmills bore him, and the cold winter air and low visibility made the Mills a more relaxing option than any of Grapevine’s otherwise excellent outdoor trails. Together with a separate break for meals, planned “wellness breaks” like Diciero’s mall walks are designed to help officers decompress, stay fit, and refocus. But this particular evening presented something different.
As Officer Diciero made his way inside and turned toward Entry Three, he noticed a powerful smell. Accompanied by black smoke.
Within minutes, Diciero found himself alerting local security and the Grapevine Fire Department that at least one storefront had caught fire, and the blaze threatened to jump into the perfume collection next door. He did what he could to contain the flames until a team from the nearby fire station arrived, dousing the fire and preventing a much greater loss.
Diciero’s peers now refer to him (half-jokingly) as “the man who saved Christmas.” But he’s not the only public servant making a big impact at Grapevine Mills. In fact, he’s one of several dozen officers who have trained – at the Mills and elsewhere – to serve the community by knowing it well.
GPD and The Mills: A History of Service
The arrival of Grapevine Mills in 1996 permanently changed the fabric of the City, helping to cement its status as a destination for retail and attractions. But storefronts weren’t the only things expanding at the turn of the century: the police department made a big investment in the property, too.
“When the mall first opened, this was a fully functioning police substation. There were sixteen officers assigned to the substation. I was like, ‘holy smokes that’s a lot.’ When I was in Gurney, we only had two officers assigned to the substation,” said Mills General Manager Joe Szymaszek. “Thankfully, we quickly understood that Grapevine didn’t need that type of presence – which is always a good thing – but we’ve always maintained the relationship. This still is a substation; we’re in District 5 for the Grapevine Police Department. They tend to office here, and the motorcycle division actually garages here.”
The Mills sit at the convergence of multiple major highways, making the property a potent piece of commercial real estate as well as an ideal launchpad for the traffic division at Grapevine Mills. A good portion of accidents and moving violations in Grapevine occur at the interchanges around the site, so it’s easier for officers to deploy from their hidden garage at the Mills than from the newly constructed Public Safety Building on Dallas Road. These days, most officers start their shifts in the Historic District. But some, including Captain Clay Gidney, still remember the early days.
“I’m thankful for them coming because it helped me get a job, I guess you could say. I started in 1996, in anticipation of the opening of the mall,” Gidney said. “I think the Department – the City of Grapevine – we increased our numbers by approximately twenty to get ready for the mall opening. We assigned officers out there, and I believe at least one Sergeant and a Lieutenant were out there. But we decided that it would be better to deploy from a central location for all the officers, so we brought the mall guys back to the central station.”
The Heart of Many Beats
Grapevine Mills may have a smaller on-site presence today, but it remains an important piece of the overall strategy for the Grapevine Police Department. In addition to housing multiple traffic officers, the 2-million-square-foot venue offers a crucial proving ground for new technology and tactics. Only a few officers at a time are assigned to a beat in District 5, but most will log hours of training there over the course of their career.
“We have done Active Threat training out there several times. And they invited us back out, even though some TVs might have gotten damaged in the process – that we replaced – but the hardest thing to do sometimes is to find locations to host those trainings,” said Captain Gidney. “We do it a lot in the schools in the summer when they’re out of session, but other than that trying to get into a business that gives us a realistic feel – to actually go somewhere that we could potentially have to respond, to learn that layout – is awesome. You can’t replace it.”
“I don’t want [an officer’s first experience with] a hectic, critical incident to be when it happens. I would like for them to experience or have some knowledge of that place before the incident happens. We have maps for everything, and floor plans, but having a floor plan and being able to get out there and walk a structure are two different things. We encourage our officers to walk as many structures as they can because we have really embraced beat management. So officers that have been assigned to the mall district, or that beat, they need to know the mall inside and out as best as they can.”
Some trainings involve “simunitions,” rounds designed to mark their target with a more precise version of something akin to paintball. Others are less intense, but equally important: officers once took on the challenge of seeking out hidden mall employees with the help of surveillance drones; practicing high-difficulty maneuvers in case a child should ever go missing inside the massive space. And, of course, anyone serving near Grapevine Mills is expected to practice beat management tactics like the ones Captain Gidney outlined above. If not for that approach, Officer Diciero’s holiday heroics may never have taken place. As one of the largest buildings in the City, Grapevine Mills is the focal point of its own district and a key stop within the District 5 beat, granting the property a steady stream of watchful eyes in exchange for all those training sessions and wellness breaks. All told, it’s tough to say which organization gets more out of the partnership.
“From a shopping center standpoint, I can’t express how valuable that is,” Szymaszek said of the police department’s ongoing support. “Once a shopping center is deemed unsafe, you can’t rinse that stink off of you. It carries a stigma to the shopper, no matter what kind of marketing or tenant mix or entertainment you have… We’re blessed because of the police presence. Knock on wood, in my ten years here, we’ve not had a significant incident. And in this day and age, that’s saying something.”
Community Policing for Community Benefits
Officers in the Grapevine Police Department use an approach called Community Policing, in which staff focus on building connections with constituents to cultivate trust and address community issues. The goal is to prevent crime by heading off the kinds of economic and environmental stressors that often lead to illegal activity. That means knowing buildings, of course, but also knowing people. In fact, the people are Officer Diciero’s favorite part.
“The most unique thing about Grapevine is being able to see people from not even just around the country but around the world,” said Diciero. “I’ve met people from all different countries and I’ve only been here for seven years. It’s kind of exciting to just talk to people about where they’re from and what they do back home; what brought them here to Grapevine… to be able to see what they’re doing here, and if it’s their first time in Texas – or even their first time in America – to give them pointers on things to do and places to eat is a lot of fun.”
Part of the reason he walked the mall was to familiarize himself with the tenants and store owners who might call him in an emergency, so that they would recognize him and feel more comfortable asking him for help. By taking a constituent-facing approach and keeping himself engrained with the community, Officer Diciero found himself in the right place at the right time to prevent a catastrophic fire. That kind of proactive presence is an essential strategy in cities like Grapevine, where an accumulation of people and wealth can sometimes draw the wrong sort of attention.
“[We sometimes see] organized groups that come from outside the City and are just looking for a target-rich environment – and that’s not exclusive to Grapevine – any retail location will have theft rings that target them. I’d be pretty confident to say that the majority of those are coming from outside the City. If you look at our stats, I think we’re doing extremely well,” Gidney said.
“The Mills is a great asset for the city to have, a great value. They generate a lot of business out there, so I’d say they’re much more of a benefit to have than not. Crime trends come and go, but having that consistent presence of the mall out there is awesome. It’s going to build up the area around them with more business. It already has, and I believe it will continue to do so.”
From proving ground to substation facility, Grapevine Mills provides the Grapevine Police Department with a wealth of resources that make it easier for them to serve the community. And, in exchange, GPD officers provide support that makes the center a safer place to shop and do business. By working together, those two agencies have created a public-private partnership worthy of celebration, fueling the already prolific local economy with a one-of-a-kind venue that’s as well-protected as it is inviting.
If you’re looking for a partner of your own, the City of Grapevine might be the place for you! Learn more about our community by exploring the community profile and available property tools here at choosegrapevinetx.com. Or, for more details on this groundbreaking partnership and others like it, check out the ‘Growing Grapevine’ podcast and eNewsletter.