Arden Fair mall’s decision to ban unaccompanied teenagers the day after Christmas is drawing criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union along with some parents and teenagers who say it discriminates against a broad category of people, barring them from a space open to the public.
On Dec. 26, security guards and Sacramento police officers enforced a blanket ban on minors who were shopping without a parent or guardian. Security personnel and law enforcement were stationed at various entrances to prevent unaccompanied minors from entering. Some teenagers who sneaked in with the crowds were later stopped inside and asked to leave.
Jamie Donley, Arden Fair’s senior marketing manager, defended the policy, which was written into the code of conduct only days before and allows management broad power to institute the rule when it sees fit.
Donley described the move as a preemptive measure designed to keep the peace, pointing to a series of fights that have historically marred the day after Christmas.
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Arden Fair is known for its tight security and bristles with surveillance cameras. But that hasn’t stopped violence from sometimes breaking out. The mall was evacuated on the day after Christmas four years ago after a group knocked down a store sign during a fight, causing a loud noise that was wrongly perceived as a gunfire. A similar scene occurred in 2014, when a series of brawls forced the mall to close early.
Similar trouble has occurred on the day after Christmas around the country. The New York Times reported last week that at least 15 fights broke out Dec. 26 at malls from Connecticut to Arizona. Videos posted on social media showed young people fighting and running along mall concourses.
Donley said Arden Fair’s rule was written after consultations with the Sacramento Police Department, property management team and security guards.
“It was a group effort to determine how we could keep the mall safe on that day,” she said, noting that the policy had been approved by the mall’s legal team.
Arden Fair’s ban on unaccompanied minors is unusual in the Sacramento region. Westfield Galleria in Roseville does not have such a policy, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Ringey.
But similar rules aren’t unheard of. A mall in North Carolina banned unaccompanied teens last week after a fight on the day after Christmas sent hundreds of shoppers fleeing, according to the Associated Press.
Data from the International Council of Shopping Centers shows that more than 100 malls across the country have consistent, year-round bans on unaccompanied minors on weekend evenings. A ban on unaccompanied teens based on periods of high occupancy or at the discretion of mall management is unusual, said Stephanie Cegielski, head of public relations for the organization.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California argues Arden Fair’s new policy violates California law.
“California civil rights law requires that businesses treat people as individuals and not discriminate against them based on broad generalizations,” said Michael Risher, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU in San Francisco. “The fact that a mall is a private business does not save them. A mall is someplace where everybody is allowed to go.”
He added that mall management can’t ban children or teenagers, “no more than they can ban all men.” The ACLU did not say it planned to take any legal action against the mall, however.
Arden Fair also has come under fire from patrons who say they observed officers enforcing the policy selectively, and in a way that seemed to target certain groups.
“I saw security mainly confronting people of color – any color besides white,” said Lisa Kelsoe, 14, a freshman at Rosemont High School.
Kelsoe, who is white, was shopping at the mall the day after Christmas with two of her friends, who are also white.
Trevonn Cummings, 18, said he and his friends were approached by police officers four times. He said he was shopping with five other people, two of whom were also 18. He felt they were targeted because they are black.
“There were other kids walking around that were different races, like white, who walked right past us while we were talking to the police and they didn’t say anything to them,” Cummings said.
The reports of unfair treatment aren’t surprising, according to ACLU attorney Risher.
“Simply standing around and eyeballing people … often leads to discriminatory enforcement of laws,” he said.
Arden Fair’s Donley said she did not know if or how mall security personnel had been trained to enforce the teen policy, but she said they did not profile people based on race. The mall contracts security services to Allied Universal.
Garrick Brown, a vice president of retail research at the Cushman & Wakefield brokerage company, said the rule risks alienating customers, even if they are teenagers.
“Mall landlords have to be really careful about painting the entire youth market with a broad, negative brush,” Brown said in an email. “They aren’t just the shoppers of tomorrow. They actually are the shoppers of today as well, though their spending power is somewhat limited.”
Kristin Kelsoe, Lisa’s mother, complained that Arden’s rule was an “overreach,” noting that it would inconvenience families because “that’s the one safe place where you can drop your kids.”
“High schoolers aren’t into bringing their parents,” Kristin Kelsoe said.
As for why the teenage fights take place the day after Christmas and not on other big shopping days like Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Steve Reed, Arden’s retired head of security, had this answer, “They’ve been cooped up for two days. They’ve got a lot of energy.”
“Once a fight breaks out, it broke out,” he said. “You can’t unslap a face.”
Reed, whose career spanned 15 years, said he doesn’t know if he would have gone so far as to pursue a ban on unaccompanied teens. During his tenure, he spearheaded several initiatives to tighten security, including a multimillion-dollar surveillance camera system and a ban on patrons wearing hoodies after a thief used a sweatshirt to mask his identity.
Reed, however, criticized his former colleagues for failing to inform the public, noting that he “always felt like the media was a resource.” The hoodie policy was widely reported in the news, he said.
“You’ve got to be transparent. You’ve got to put it out a month or so before,” Reed said.
The Bee’s Ellen Garrison contributed to this report.