Following a brawl that forced the early closure of Arden Fair mall on the day after Christmas, the mall may add to its already extensive security measures to prevent future violence, the mall’s retiring security chief Steve Reed said.
The plan could include bringing in probation, parole, gang and juvenile justice personnel to help recognize potential troublemakers before trouble begins. A redesign of the food court will also be considered, Reed said last week. He said the goal is to be proactive, rather than reactive, but to avoid any behavior that is seen as harassing law-abiding patrons.
Reed said that in recent years the mall has increased the number of officers on duty during the holiday season in anticipation of the influx of idle teens. The day after Christmas is one of the mall’s three busiest days of the year. In addition to the droves of people returning gifts are swarms of young people just looking to hang out.
“I had over a dozen police officers here that day,” he said.
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The series of fights involving 30 to 40 people beginning around 4:30 p.m. Dec. 26 in the food court of the Sacramento mall was one of at least four mall fights among teens across the country. Oscar Armendarez, 18, is facing a felony resisting arrest charge for his role in the fight at Arden Fair. A fight at a western Pennsylvania mall left two hospitalized after hundreds of people were involved in a melee. Other mall disturbances were reported at a mall outside Buffalo, N.Y., and in Independence, Mo.
Reed said incidents typically start small – a dirty look or somebody talking to someone’s girlfriend. Reed said the Dec. 26 fight wasn’t an organized disturbance or gang-related and began with a series of small dust-ups in the food court. The situation heightened when a planter was toppled and security moved to escort the combatants out of the mall. But as the fracas restarted, mall management decided the safest thing was to close early, said Reed, a former Sacramento police officer.
“Before it got out of hand, he decided to close it down,” Reed said of his boss’s decision.
Doug Morse, a spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department, said that Arden’s security team is a model for other malls. He said Adren Fair’s strong relationship with law enforcement, heavy use of surveillance cameras, open communication and use of off-duty officers help detour crime.
“Their security team is second to none,” said Morse said. “We’ve seen crime stats in the mall drop to unprecedented levels.”
Security consultant Bill Nesbitt said most malls are wise to look at mall layout and staff training.
The food court “is the trouble spot,” said Nesbitt, of Security Management Services International, which is based in Newbury Park. “It’s a hangout. You go in any mall and that’s where you’ll see the kids hanging out.”
He said some mall operators install cameras in hopes of preventing crime, but don’t train their staff to be proactive.
“Cameras in and of themselves are not useful unless they are being used properly,” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt said staff should keep an eye out for people getting in other people’s faces – a clear signal of conflict – and try to prevent violence with a friendly interaction with security personnel.
“When the adrenaline gets going, it’s hard to calm it down,” Nesbitt said. “That becomes contagious in a hurry.”