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Simon differs from other mall owners on teen policy

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As local activists push for stronger steps to curb disruptive gatherings by teenagers at local shopping malls, Simon Property Group is standing by a corporate policy against restricting access to its properties.

Unlike other mall owners, Indianapolis-based Simon generally opposes using curfews or escort policies requiring an adult to accompany teens on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Simon spokesman Les Morris said the company has such a policy at just one of its malls — Town Center at Aurora in Aurora, Colo., where a woman was shot and killed outside a Champs store in 2005. The mall’s youth-escort policy took effect the same year, according to research by the International Council of Shopping Centers, or ICSC. The policy applies to anyone under 17 after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Simon, the world's largest retail real estate company, owns 317 retail properties, including 160 traditional malls.

The ICSC counts more than 70 malls nationwide that have some kind of curfew or escort policy. At least 21 policies have gone into effect since the start of 2008, despite retailers’ suffering from a recession-driven drop in consumer spending.

The TenPoint Coalition, a local group of volunteers who patrol downtown, asked Simon to set a youth-escort policy at Circle Centre mall after a Jan. 26 incident in which a teen who’d been kicked out of the mall fired his gun outside, said the Rev. Charles Harrison, chairman of TenPoint.

Simon declined. The company reiterated its position after March 9 melees around Castleton Square Mall drew a huge police response. Two teens were arrested outside the nearby McDonald’s on 82nd Street — one for carrying an unlicensed gun — after a fight that drew a crowd of 15 to 20. About an hour later, police responded to a disturbance at the mall, where three more teens were arrested for fighting and knocking over a clothing rack in the Sears.

“I’m not sure what the fascination is with escort policies as a panacea for this stuff,” Morris said.

Harrison figures that if teens can’t gather at malls on weekends, they’ll be more easily lured to a community center, which TenPoint would like to establish.

“It’s the only alternative that I see right now to address the problem at the malls,” Harrison said. “We know that malls across the country that are having the same problem have gone to that.”

Morris said Simon prefers to rely on its own high-tech security measures, which he declined to detail for confidentiality reasons. A youth-escort policy would mean posting guards at every mall entrance, he noted. “At a center like Castleton, think about how many entrances that is.”

Simon also believes excluding teens would be bad for business, considering they’re the target audience for so many retailers. In Aurora, Morris said, “the mall manager told me it has, obviously, cost us a lot of business.”

Mall managers that use the curfew policies claim just the opposite. They contend that the return of adult shoppers on weekends can help sales.

CBL & Associates Properties, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., imposes youth-escort policies at 24 of its 100 malls. The effect on sales is either neutral or positive, depending on the retailer, vice president of marketing Barb Faucette said.

The teens end up shopping at a different time of day, Faucette said. “They come to shop; that is the key.”

Faucette said escort policies do drive up security costs, but they’re effective. “Once the program is implemented, rarely have we had any issues,” she said. “I think it’s becoming more commonplace now.”

Teens are still allowed to go to mall restaurants and movie theaters after 6 p.m. on weekends, Faucette said.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department would welcome an escort policy at local malls if Simon was willing to implement one, spokeswoman Linda Jackson said. “I’m sure it would be helpful,” she said. “Any tool we can put in our tool belt, it wouldn’t hurt.”

Since that’s not an option right now, IMPD has ramped up its presence downtown on weekends. And Castleton Square management met with the department’s north-side commander Tuesday and agreed to take stronger steps to dispel teen crowds, Jackson said. Security will now break up groups of more than four teenagers at the mall.

Taking the same step downtown is unlikely. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said requiring teens to be accompanied by an adult on weekends at Circle Centre would be impractical, especially since the mall is a magnet for young convention-goers. “When the FFA comes to town, are we going to escort them?” he asked,  referring to one of the city's largest regular conventions.

Other malls in town also attract convention visitors, Ballard said, and he wouldn’t want them to be affected, either. “Nobody wants what’s happening to happen,” he said. “It flares up occasionally. We tamp it back down.”

Could Simon be held liable if someone is shot inside a mall? Carmel litigator Jeffrey Zipes, who has represented retail clients in liability lawsuits, said it's generally more difficult to prove a property owner's liability for a third party's criminal activity. "There's less they can do about it. It's less foreseeable," he said.

But it also depends on circumstances leading up to the incident, Zipes said. "If you're in a crime-ridden area, the store's chances of being held culpable for that are much greater."

Simon also has to consider the potential legal costs associated with making it more difficult for certain groups of people to visit the mall.

After meeting with Simon respresentatives, Harrison said he suspected a fear of perceived racial discrimination is a factor in the company's reluctance to limit teen-age access. “You got the sense, the racial issues, that was the big elephant in the room,” he said.

Simon's Morris said allegations of racial bias did not become an issue after Simon started requiring youth escorts in Aurora. He said there are other reasons for not implementing the policy elsewhere. “We don’t think it’ll work operationally," he said. "Philosophically, we’re opposed to it.”
 

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  • Other players get involved
    I would like to see IDI (Indpls Downtown Inc) step up their role - along with other dining/entertainment establishments that have skin in the game. To put pressure on Simon and to also lock arms w/ city & volunteer security teams. To add to my original comment - for my company, I am responsible for planning our holiday party. After this past December's experience, I will never even consider downtown. Once hitting downtown, we spent 30 min. in gridlock traffic going from one parking lot to the next to find a garage w/availability which ended up being too far for comfort, thus having to walk thru the "war zone". And to be fair, the crowd/gang was a bit more multi-racial than some readers might assume.
  • Hmmm
    Jay, thank God for your insightful comment. Do you have the courage to actually write out what you're insinuating? What's the one trait that all of the parents/grandparents of these children have in common? Could it be that they weren't able to go to the same schools, have the same jobs, or even use the same restrooms as you when they were growing up? Could that have anything to do with the problems we are seeing today? Hmmm, I wonder.
  • Good answer
    I like your solution John, make them responsible for their own security force.
  • Hmmm
    Seems all the kids have one thing in common when picures or video of them are shown, but no one will comment on what that one trait/characteristic is.......
    • I am confused on this one.
      What seems to be the problem here? Frankly, I would think that folks would speak from their pocket or purse and boycott all Simon Properties until people feel safe again.
    • Polical correctness over Safety
      Simon won't admit it, but the racial bias thing is huge for them. Politics over safety, weak. The bad for business excuse is weak too, what teenagers are spending money when their parents aren't with them anyway? Secure your malls before someone gets killed, you spineless liberals...
    • Policy
      A Parental Escort Policy will work. There are way to many example of how well it works for it to be discounted so quickly by Simon. The real issue is that it drives up operating costs and as far as Simon is concerned that's way more important than the safety of their customers. They are immune from the inherit liability their lack of action creates. The companies they hire to provide security will absorb all the cost associated with liability.
    • Castleton Mall is private property
      The mall is private property as are most shopping malls. If the owners refuse to take reasonable actions to discourage gangs of kids harassing shoppers and creating an environment conducive to bad behavior, there is a simple answer: discontinue police runs to malls and pass an ordinance requiring mall owners to provide at least 20, trained security officers fully equipped to deal with riots including helicopters and buses for transport. Or, charge the mall owner $50k per incident for provision of police services. Problem solved!
      • Something should be done
        It's getting pretty bad. There are parts of downtown I won't go to at night. The police are telling groups of young kids to move if the kids are just gathered and not moving. One night coming out of a restaurant there was blood and puke on the sidewalk. Watch the news and you start to notice that things are spilling into areas that didn't used to be in the news for shootings or crime. It's no longer surprising to hear Carmel or Geist mentioned along with the word "shooting". Indy is 12th largest city in the U.S. and history shows us the bigger the population the bigger the crimes so, unfortunately, it's expected. Like A. Countable writes, "Society's Issue - Not the Mall," and I agree it is society's issue. People are immature these days and don't ask their kids questions or get to know their friends. I grew up around Castleton mall and we could be dropped off there when we were 12 with no issues. The biggest crime then was Orange Julius closing. However, I don't agree that it's not the mall's responsibility. The definition of society is a group of people brought together for a common goal, through common bonds, with similar beliefs, etc..... Isn't a company part of that society by being in the community, by offering services to the community and by managing a building of which the main function is to attract large amounts of people and therefore now accountable for being part of the solution? The IMPD welcomed the idea! I believe it has everything to do with race and money but the spokesperson knows better than to bring that up. His job is to make the mall look good, not like a bunch of money grubbing racists. When I see the words "it won't work operationally" and "Philosophically, we're opposed to it" I see it as a spokesperson’s way of saying, "It will cost us money, we'll lose customers, we don't want to look racist and in this economy we feel a couple of lives are worth more kids spending money at the mall."
      • Society's Issue - Not the Mall
        This is the second article I have read on this and neither mentions the fault of kids or their parents accountability. So Simon is supposed to address? If the business dictates you would bet Simon would respond. It doesn't. And Simon being the largest and most successful Mall operator in the country you would think they would know. Previous poster specifically identifies gang presence in the streets yelling across the street. What's the Mall got to do with that. These things happen becasue Society as a whole are letting us all down. Until that changes there isn't anything that will help.
      • Liability
        So they know of an issue and they do nothing opens them to liability
      • Morris - clueless?
        Have to concur with comments from other mall owners. Any anticipated loss in sales would be neutralized or made up by returned shoppers. Speaking of downtown Circle Ctr mall specifically - twice over the last year my husband & I were downtown on a Saturday nite. Both times were sketchy experiences (and we used to live downtown). First time we thought it was an anomaly, attributed to whatever convention might be going on. Second time, we felt very unsafe - rough gangs were yelling at one another across the street... men from the Ten Point group were running up to disperse... one guy walked us across the street to be safe. Was creepy. This was an early-Dec Sat. nite for a company Christmas dinner. Once we finally arrived at restaurant - numerous people were saying "no way we're coming to downtown again on a Sat. nite." And we're definitely in that camp. So Morris is clueless if he thinks their policy doesn't negatively bleed over beyond his mall walls. If Simon were to initiate a stricter curfew/escort policy - I think their struggling downtown mall might see a bounceback and I'm sure the neighboring establishments would be thrilled. That nite, there were no shopping bags....

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