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Archive for Sunday, August 10, 2003

Businesses get handle on unruly teens

Collaborative efforts bring Kansas City strip mall under control

August 10, 2003

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— A partnership among police, parents and business owners has brought peace to a strip mall where unruly teens once ran wild. Now, those who put the program together hope it will pay off elsewhere.

At the BarryWoods Crossing strip mall in Kansas City, north of the Missouri River, teens fought, knocked over displays and intimidated shoppers. Someone even set a girl's hair on fire.

The problems continued in a neighborhood across the street, with youths smoking, drinking and having sex in public.

Now, young people still gather at the strip mall but aren't causing as many problems, officers said Friday in a presentation to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.

Sgt. Jon Brady said businesses and neighbors brought problems to police early this year. Some businesses were so frustrated they talked about relocating, police said.

Instead, police, neighbors and the businesses met in February to find a solution.

To identify the problem, officers worked with youths from an area church to survey teens at the mall and the parents who dropped off the teens on a Friday night.

From the surveys, police found that loitering youths consisted mostly of middle-school students. They also learned that 96 percent of parents said they thought their children were going to see a movie at the AMC movie theater, which anchors the mall.

Nearly 40 percent of the teens, however, told survey-takers that they were there solely to "hang out."

Police concluded that many parents did not know what their children were doing.

A card was created containing rules of conduct that business owners post and hand out to youths. The rules prohibit disruptive, offensive or dangerous behavior.

Youths who were notified of the rules and continued to violate them were asked to leave. Those who refused to leave were arrested for trespassing. Brady said few situations led to arrests.

Although the solutions appear simple, Brady said businesses needed a common set of rules and the authority to enforce them.

"The businesses felt helpless," he said. "The rules of conduct gave them structure."

AMC Entertainment Inc. spokesman Rick King said his company already had conduct rules and security guards for its movie theater but needed to work with other businesses for rules to govern shared areas, such as sidewalks and parking lots.

"We think the situation has significantly improved," he said Friday. "The improvement we have seen speaks well of the cooperation among the merchants, police, landlords and the community."

Board member Stacey Daniels-Young said she was pleased with the cooperation and the procedures to address the problem.

"I'd really like to see this approach duplicated around the city," she said.

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