Police, malls: Youth escort policy has helped decrease teen-related disturbances

Policy implemented two years ago
Police, malls: Youth escort policy has helped decrease teen-related disturbances

In the two years since East Towne and West Towne malls implemented their youth escort policy, police and a mall spokesperson said they’ve noticed a decrease in incidents involving unaccompanied teenagers.

The policy, put into place July 28, 2017, requires visitors under 18 to have a parent or guardian who is at least 21 on Fridays and Saturdays after 4 p.m. or at any other time at the discretion of management. It’s in effect in the entirety of both malls mall except stores with exterior entrances.

Mall representatives said it was intended to curtail a rising number of unsupervised teenagers hanging out at the malls and related disturbances.

“I was kind of upset,” 15-year-old Ronell Brooks said about the change.

“Teens love clothes and shoes,” said Michael Johnson, president and CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. “When I was a teenager, I’d do those same things. My son, he’s 14. He’s a teen. He loves going to the mall.”

You can say it’s in a teen’s fabric to be drawn to the mall, but Johnson believes the mall’s youth escort policy is pushing them away.

“Running kids away from public spaces like that, I actually think will increase crime, because they’re going to find ways to engage,” he said.

Johnson knows keeping kids engaged is key.

“We should have safe, supervised places for kids to go, including the mall,” he said.

He said the city provides several community centers, including Boys and Girls Club locations, like the one on Taft Street, where Brooks often visits.

“It’s fun,” Brooks said. “We can play basketball or have snacks, play on computers. We can play ‘Fortnite’ sometimes.”

He thinks the mall curfew is unfair.

“It’s just making it harder for the other people who haven’t done anything,” Brooks said.

While Johnson says Boys and Girls programs are full, he often sees the malls empty.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s impacted their business,” he said.

CBL Properties wouldn’t answer if the policy has had an impact on business at its East Towne and West Towne malls but wrote in a statement that it has seen a decrease in the number of incidents involving unaccompanied youths.

“The feedback we have received from members of the community and our retailers has been overwhelmingly positive,” the statement said. “As a result, the policy will remain in place at both properties.”

“We were responding to disturbances, loud fighting juveniles throughout the mall area,” Madison police Capt. Mike Hansen said. “We’ve received complaints not only from the store owners, but citizens, as well, saying there’s a volume of kids running loose in the malls.”

Recently moved to the south district, Hansen previously worked in the west district, which includes West Towne Mall, for the past five years.

“We did have security at one point attacked. We had customers attacked,” he said. “That’s not something we want happening at all anywhere.”

Hansen said in the two years since the mall wrote and put the policy in place, he’s noticed a decrease in the number of youth-related calls to West Towne Mall.

“We still have some disturbances in peripheral areas such as parking lots and neighborhoods, but by and large, it has been a good plan to have in place from the police perspective,” Hansen said.

Records of police calls to both West Towne and East Towne malls don’t show which incidents involve juveniles, but disturbance calls rose from 32 to 48 to 58 in the three years (August to July) prior to the youth escort policy and dropped to 46 in the year after and 41 this past year.

Hansen said police have an officer liaison working with the malls to ensure safety and they’re keeping an eye on surrounding areas.

“We know just because the policy is in place in this location doesn’t mean something else isn’t going to boil elsewhere,” he said. “We have officers stay attuned to where youth are now going.”

While Hansen said there are plenty of places for younger kids to go to stay out of trouble, he wishes Madison had more programming for teens 13 and up.

“Whoever finds that crystal ball of great programming for youth out there in that demographic, that age group, it’s really going to make a huge impact in our community,” he said.

Johnson thinks you just have to look.

“You don’t see crime happening around our Boys and Girls clubs. You don’t see kids stealing cars around our Boys and Girls clubs,” Johnson said. “They’re there because they’re engaged in high-yield activities, and I think the mall could do the same thing.”

Brooks doesn’t mind trading evenings at the mall for time here at the club.

“Here, you can actually be more active,” Brooks said. “At the mall, you just walk around and buy stuff.”

Rather than turn teens away, Johnson would like to find ways to weave them in.

“Our kids are part of the fabric of this community,” he said.

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