Brawling returns as Burlington Coat Factory reopens

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Before the coronavirus shutdown, Guilderland Police Detectives John Laviano, left, and Adam Myers were to work full-time at Crossgates Mall.

GUILDERLAND — A fistfight among young adults, both males and females, broke out at the Burlington Coat Factory in Crossgates Mall on Saturday, said a shopper who witnessed the fight.

Since the store has an outside entrance, it was allowed to open while, because of coronavirus restrictions, stores in the mall with solely indoor entrances remain closed.

“Burlington Coat Factory hired private security this past weekend,” said Curtis Cox, deputy chief of the Guilderland Police.

“We did respond to reports of a fight,” he said. “When we arrived, everyone was gone.”

Guilderland Police, Cox said, are still patrolling the mall and are in “continuous communication with mall management.”

Michael Gately, general manager of Crossgates Mall, could not be reached for comment.

Before malls across the state were forced to close in March, to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Crossgates Mall had a series of brawls.

Two of them garnered widespread attention — on Christmas Eve and on Jan. 26 — because of videos posted on social media. The videos showed young people throwing punches and picking up and knocking over signs and tables with merchandise.

Witnesses to another fight, a Jan. 11 brawl at the Burlington Coat Factory, described to The Enterprise hiding in a storage closet for a quarter of an hour, crouched in fear with other shoppers, as the brawlers rampaged through the store and a bystander was carried off on a stretcher.

The Enterprise had written the year before about a new trend in shoplifting in which groups of people — two, or three, or five people — work together and create a distraction. This may involve throwing clothing racks onto the floor, and yelling and screaming, Cox had said; the people involved in the disruption may do the shoplifting themselves, or their associates in another part of the store might do it. 

Sometimes the theft is not noticed until after the disruption has ended, he said. The age of the perpetrators varies, but generally they are kids or young adults, Cox told The Enterprise earlier. 

Because of this pattern, the Guilderland Police Department started an initiative known as Retail Intervention Detail, Cox said. RID officers are sent to the mall and placed in strategic areas that have experienced these incidents before, Cox said, so they can be on hand quickly if something happens.

They also work closely with the managers and security staff of some of the stores that have been targeted in the past, listening to concerns and providing them information, Cox said at the time.

In February, before the pandemic caused Crossgates to close, the town of Guilderland announced an agreement with Pyramid Management, which owns Crossgates, to increase mall patrols.

Under the agreement, Cox told The Enterprise in February, Pyramid would pay for two new police officers for the town. In return, the police department would expand the hours of two officers who are currently stationed at Crossgates on an as-available basis; investigators John Laviano and Adam Myers were to work full-time at the mall.

Guilderland was to pay the salaries of Laviano and Myers, who are both now detectives. New hires are paid less.

Asked about this in an email, Michael Gately, general manager of Crossgates Mall, referred The Enterprise to the Guilderland Police.

With its tenants closed under public-health orders, Pyramid said in March it would stop making payments for police officers the town had hired.

The town is keeping the two full-time officers on its payroll, Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber told The Enterprise in March, and Pyramid Management Group had already made one quarterly payment of a little over $30,000.

Barber said in March that the town has had recent retirements in its police force and could weather the short-term financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic with its savings.

Asked this week what is happening with the Pyramid agreement, Cox said, “Right now, there is no definitive answer.”

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