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Expanded curfew may follow Walden Galleria 'mall brawl'

Cheektowaga police are looking to expand the curfew at the Walden Galleria after a series of disturbances Sunday and Monday that resulted in the arrests of 10 teens, with 90 ejected, including a 14-year-old who later returned with a loaded handgun, said James Speyer, assistant police chief.

“The 14-year-old was kicked out Sunday, shows up around 6 p.m. Monday and gets arrested for trespass,” said Speyer. “But this time he’s got a loaded gun. What was he going to do with a loaded gun?

“It’s Christmas. It’s supposed to be the holiest time of the year and this should not happen, yet it happens every year – here and around the country,” said Speyer. “We expect it to happen.”

The 14-year-old was taken to a juvenile detention center for processing, said Speyer.

Currently, the parental escort policy in the mall is enforced from 4 p.m. to closing on Fridays and Saturdays, when youths 17 and younger are required to be accompanied by a parent or an adult 21 or older.

Speyer would like to see it enforced on Christmas, as well.

“The curfew allows us to eject them before they start fighting,” Speyer said. “Through the night we are ejecting these large numbers of teens. A lot of these kids are dropped off. A lot of them walk, and now they’re outside, and they have to go somewhere. They wind up roaming the streets causing trouble.”

[Related: Six arrested after fight at Walden Galleria (Dec. 28, 2014)]

Six off-duty Cheektowaga police officers were working security at the mall Sunday when the first group of 20 combative teens – ages 13 to 17 – were ejected between 6:30 and 7 p.m., Speyer said.

Like clockwork Sunday night, the ejections followed: At 7:04 p.m., five more were shown the door. At 7:05, another three were led out outside. At 7:10, officers arrested two teens for refusing to leave, Speyer said.

At 8:04 p.m., a juvenile female assaulted a mall security guard, Speyer said. Cheektowaga police took her to the station house, where a parent picked her up.

“You can’t be in the shows unless you have a ticket to the show. Any kid who doesn’t have a ticket is ejected,” said Speyer.

In addition, three police cars from the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority police were called in Sunday to help with crowd control, according to C. Douglas Hartmayer, the NFTA's director of public affairs.

“We did respond to two locations with police assistance,” Hartmayer said. “We sent three officers at 9:56 p.m. to the Galleria and one officer to the Thruway Mall bus loop at 10:12 p.m. to assist with crowd control.”

Police reported the last call on Sunday at 11:34 p.m. On Monday, the final call came in a 10:18 p.m.

Similar incidents played out in malls throughout the country during the holiday weekend, all involving combative young people on school break. Some of the confrontations were so volatile the shopping centers were forced to shut down:

  • In Syracuse, police blocked entrances to Destiny USA Monday night after a fight involving a large group of teens broke out on the mall’s second floor. The fight broke out as the mall was closing.
  • In Memphis, Tenn., seven people were arrested Monday at two malls about 10 miles apart. Both malls were cleared and closed early for the night.
  • In Aurora, Colo., a social media post announced a fight at the Town Center and 100 people gathering in the food court triggered a brawl. As officers arrived, published reports said, fights broke out throughout the mall, at the movie theaters and at a park-and-ride lot. The mall shut early Monday afternoon.

At the Walden Galleria, social media may have played a minor role, said Speyer.

“I don’t have any indication that social media triggered the confrontations,” said Speyer, “but it may have helped in spreading the word to meet up.”

Facebook taunts, YouTube videos and Tweets posted by teens may play roles in triggering so-called “mall brawls,” but experts caution that social media is not the only reason some juveniles go to malls and misbehave.

“There’s not one single cause,” said Bonnie L. Glazer, president of Child and Adolescent Treatment Services. “Malls are gathering places where you can get a number of teens together. While social media may ease the way in which teens can connect and plan, I think it’s likely that many of these teens have some underlying vulnerabilities.”

Glazer listed many factors that place teens at risk, including a winter break from school that lacks structure, drug or alcohol involvement, lack of positive social activities and no parental supervision.

“An accumulation of these factors, and a social media trigger might set it off,” she said. “Once something like that gets going, it can be a magnet. Sometimes notoriety is not a deterrent. It can be engaging and contribute to contagion in vulnerable kids.

“When you have a 14-year-old in a mall with a gun, there are multiple reasons," Glazer said, "and you wonder about contagion and copycat phenomenon.”

[Related: Post-Christmas fight at Walden Galleria is part of a national trend (Dec. 29, 2014)]

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