The chaotic fights the day after Christmas at the Walden Galleria prompted a lockdown and had shoppers fleeing stores for fear of someone having a gun.
Turns out no one had a gun but the fights were real and ugly, with two arrests made.
“I think what happens at the Walden Galleria has really been exaggerated,” said Cheektowaga Police Chief David Zack.
But are such incidents unusual?
News 4 Investigates obtained data through the Freedom of Information law that shows complaints of fights and disturbances at the Galleria are on the rise.
The data shows that complaints for fights and disturbances at Walden Galleria reached 114 last year – the most recorded in five years. In fact, the number of complaints for fights and disturbances rose 52 percent from the prior year.
But the incident this past year brought both town officials and Galleria managers back to the table to look at ways to prevent similar fights and disturbances.
Officials with the Walden Galleria and Cheektowaga Town Supervisor Diane Benczkowski refused to comment for this story.
The Galleria is the town’s top taxpayer and employer, with some 3,000 employees and a $6.9 million bill for school and property taxes last year.
Zack said the mall over the past few years has changed from a retail establishment to a mix of retail and entertainment, which draws different crowds than before.
While the data shows that Galleria managers and police have worked successfully to lower the number of shoplifting calls, Zack said, there’s more work to be done when it comes to reducing complaints of fights and disturbances. Such calls require a large police presence, sometimes more than a dozen officers at a time.
“So, is it a drain? Yeah, I mean sure it is,” Zack said.
“But there is a lot of things that cause a drain – a traffic accident can draw three cars away. So it’s just a balancing act.”
Brawls at malls are becoming an issue for establishments across the country.
In 2016, fights at malls made national news when more than a dozen broke out the day after Christmas.
That is one of the busiest days for malls like the Walden Galleria, where people return unwanted gifts and spend their gift cards.
The day after Christmas in 2014, Cheektowaga police arrested six people after a melee at the Galleria’s food court.
In February 2015, police arrested seven people after fights broke out in the Walden Galleria outside a women’s clothing store.
In December 2017, a violent fight broke out in Sephora between two men, with several women throwing makeup at each other.
Zack said his force increases its presence at the mall during the rest of the holidays.
Pyramid Management Co., which owns the Galleria, also pledged to better enforce its policy that requires anyone under the age of 18 to have an adult escort with them from 4 p.m. to closing on Friday and Saturdays.
The Galleria reimburses the town for police responses, paying $50,971 last year.
Zack said he has discussed with the company the idea of having full-time police at the mall during the busiest weekend times.
“What it always boils down to is how many, and when and for how long?” Zack said.