Armed carjacking underscores ongoing crime crisis at Tanger

Riverhead’s police chief said over the weekend that investigators have a lead on a suspect in an armed carjacking earlier this month at Tanger Outlets — and expect to make an arrest.

In an interview, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller also confirmed that the victim of the carjacking is a Banana Republic employee and recent high school graduate whose iPhone helped authorities track the stolen car to Queens, its last known location.

Chief Hegermiller spoke Saturday at the Riverhead library in an event organized by the civic group, Heart of Riverhead. During a question-and-answer session with residents, he was asked why more police officers on foot patrols are not currently assigned to the downtown Riverhead business district. The chief said that’s not where most of the town’s crime occurs.  

He said that the Tanger mall is a leading target — possibly the leading target — of property crimes in Riverhead.

“When I look at crime town wide, I’m looking at violent crime and property crimes, and the majority of that doesn’t occur in the downtown area,” he said. “It’s happening outside that area.”

Chief Hegermiller went on to say that Tanger is “probably the biggest” magnet for crime, particularly shoplifting, in Riverhead. While he stressed that the mall is not the most dangerous location in the town, he said he believes that, statistically, there are more property crimes reported at Tanger Outlets than in any other section of town.

“All those big larcenies that happen up there are going into my crime statistics as property crimes and [Tanger] is the biggest one, I think,” the police chief said. He estimated that there were more than a dozen incidents of shoplifting reported at the mall last month. A property theft is deemed grand larceny, a felony, when more than $1,000 worth of goods or merchandise is stolen.  

In a statement, Tanger Outlets management said that “Tanger Outlets Riverhead is committed to the safety and wellbeing of our retailers and guests.

“We maintain a close working relationship with the Town of Riverhead Police Department and value our partnership. While we have a robust security program in place, Tanger routinely evaluates and assesses our security measures relative to increased center traffic. At Riverhead specifically, we are currently implementing additional measures to ensure a welcoming environment for our community.”

Earlier this month, both the Polo Ralph Lauren outlet store and the GAP outlet store reported shoplifting crimes, according to police. Polo Ralph Lauren employees reported three women collectively stealing about $500 worth of merchandise, while GAP employees reported four men stealing four bags of clothing with an unspecified value.

Managers at the GAP declined to comment, but a manager at Polo Ralph Lauren, who asked not to be named, took the recent theft in stride, saying that “wherever you go in this country, where you have retail stores, you’re going to have shoplifting.”

The Banana Republic outlet store at Tanger Outlets in Riverhead. (Credit: Sunset Beach Films)

Other employees at Tanger Outlets stores were not so sanguine.

“There’s a huge shoplifting problem here,” said an employee at a Tanger Outlets store situated near the Banana Republic, who requested anonymity, “so I don’t lose my job,” she said.

The employee’s colleague, who has worked at the mall for a number of years, agreed, noting that “Tanger is not known for its security.” The colleague recalled that four years ago, while working in another store in the mall, female employees were routinely escorted to their cars by security guards in the evenings.

A Brooks Brothers manager who has worked at different shops within Tanger Outlets said the mall holds twice-annual meetings for all the store managers, and that one took place shortly before the carjacking.

“They were already talking about installing cameras for security, but that’s mostly to deal with shoplifting,” said the manager, who also requested anonymity to protect their position.

Another employee at Brooks Brothers said she typically only sees security in the evening hours when the mall is closing and on peak traffic days.

Meanwhile, employees at the Banana Republic outlet where the carjacking took place have been told by superiors to leave their cars in a section of the parking lot visible from inside the store, and many of the staffers are now carrying pepper spray, according to store manager Anisha Cannon, 20.

“We got hit out of nowhere,” Ms. Cannon said. Unlike most Tanger Outlets stores, which sit side by side along lengthy stretches of the commercial corridor, the Banana Republic store is situated in a standalone building, beside an empty storefront. Ms. Cannon said that the isolation from other stores is worrisome.

“It’s very scary because we’re the only people here,” she said. “You don’t know what could happen to you or to your car.”

She said the store’s employees are “still showing up, but they’re worried, and they are staying very alert.”

“I started carrying pepper spray,” she said, describing herself as one of numerous employees now doing so.

A spokesman for Banana Republic, which is owned by The Gap, Inc., did not immediately respond to a request for comment on security at the Riverhead store.

Ms. Cannon said the victim of the carjacking had just finished a shift shortly before 4 p.m. on March 10 and was sitting in his 2021 Kia Seltos with the driver’s side door unlocked when he was accosted, dragged from the car and threatened with a box cutter before the perpetrator drove away with his car.

“The reason the man was able to get in was [that] he was sitting in the car with the doors unlocked,” Ms. Cannon explained. “So the guy was able to open the car door and drag him out.”

Ms. Cannon said the victim, who did not respond to a request conveyed through her for an interview, “was definitely shook up.”

“He’s still trying to process what happened,” she said, a week after the incident. “This is shocking. It’s never happened here before.”

Chief Hegermiller said he could not immediately recall another armed carjacking unfolding at Tanger Outlets.

Ms. Cannon said that after the carjacking, the victim — a recent high school graduate — ran back into the store to “call 911 and to call his mom.”

Ms. Cannon said the victim was able to help police track the car using iPhone’s “Find my Phone” function, which allowed police to track the car to Queens, a detail that the police chief confirmed in an interview on Saturday.

Chief Hegermiller said no matter where you park, vigilance and awareness of one’s surroundings are always vital to staying safe.

“If you’re sitting in your car, keep your doors locked, keep the windows up. It’s the same thing if it’s parked in your driveway,” he said. “This is a crime of opportunity.”

Anyone with information about the carjacking is asked to contact the Riverhead Police Department’s detective division at 631-727-4500.