The Mall in Columbia has requested additional police patrols and is considering requiring adult chaperones for children and teens following months of unruly behavior toward workers and shoppers.

Mall workers and customers complained to mall management in November after seeing a group of 20 to 30 youths get into fights, hit people with Orbeez guns — which shoot polymer gel beads — and getting in the way of shoppers and store entrances every weekend, always between 4 and 7 p.m.

These acts violate the mall’s Code of Conduct, said Ali Phillips, senior public relations and social media specialist for Brookfield Properties, the company that owns the mall. Because of the violations and disruption to shoppers, Phillips said they are working closely with the Howard County Police Department to increase police presence and safety in the mall.

“We are aware of these [youths’] presence, and that’s something we’ve heard from customers and tenants,” Phillips said. “So it’s definitely not being ignored, but we are considering implementing a parent guidance program.”

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Exterior of the Mall in Columbia on 2/13/23. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

On Jan. 25, the Police Department met with mall management and increased patrols the next day. Two days later, a Saturday, officers responded to a large group of disorderly children and teens, which resulted in three arrests, Sherry Llewellyn, director of public affairs for the department, said in an email.

The program would be similar to one at Towson Town Center, also owned by Brookfield Properties, Phillips said, and would require anyone ages 17 and under to have an adult, 21 years or older, accompany them in the mall. Because the logistics of the program are still in discussion, days and times when it would be in effect have not been determined and there’s no set date when the program would begin, she said.

Brookfield Properties also owns Mondawmin Mall, which has the chaperone requirement — which the company calls parental guidance mandates — in place, as well as The Gallery at Harborplace, which is now closed.

The exterior of Mondawmin Mall on 12/13/22. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“We try our hardest to do what we can, and we have implemented the [parental guidance program] at other centers, which has eliminated risk and enhanced the shopping experience for everyone,” Phillips said.

The mall’s partnership with the Howard County Police includes having more officers doing foot patrols and area checks at the mall and surrounding parking lots, Llewellyn said. Additionally, police added off-duty officers on Friday and Saturday nights.

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She also said the mall “advised they are handing out Code of Conduct papers to youths as they enter the mall to deter disorderly behavior on the weekends.”

Joe Tasker, a district sales manager at a mall store he asked not be identified for fear of retaliation, said he alerted mall management about the children and teens because on numerous occasions they gathered in front of his store, got into fights and shot Orbeez guns, which scared customers.

“Every single weekend, we’re getting a call to our violence incident line from the store that there’s an incident,” Tasker said. “I don’t think we’ve had a weekend off from having some type of violence in the mall since around middle-end of November.”

Tasker, who has worked at the mall since 2009, said he closed his store early multiple times to protect his staff and customers, but that also meant he lost hours of business.

He said he did not understand why the mall’s management staff did not respond immediately to the incidents, when in the other malls they own “they were very quick to put in the parental guidance, have the police over there on weekends and times of need.”

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On a recent Friday, there were at least five county police officers patrolling the mall and no large groups of children and teens.

Saturday of the following week, there were at least nine county police officers patrolling inside the mall, asking youths who were yelling and running around the mall to leave and escorting them out. There were also officers standing outside the main entrance to the mall.

Numerous stores pulled their gates and shut their doors when the group of youths gathered. GNC Sales Associate Dominic Facchiano was one of the workers to close his doors.

“After I reopened the doors, some customers came in and told me that there was a fight downstairs,” Facchiano said. “I just did what I thought was best given the circumstance. I heard lots of yelling, lots of people running, and I didn’t want anything bad to happen — didn’t want any product to be stolen. I didn’t know what was happening necessarily, so I closed my doors just to be safe and secure.”

That was the first time Facchiano closed his store doors because of the group of children and teens.

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Aéropostale manager Bob Love said he has only seen one incident recently involving a small group of teenagers with an Orbeez gun. Aéropostale is located on the ground floor, near the food court, where some of the incidents happened.

“I heard what I thought sounded like a BB gun going off, and then I saw this kid with this bright green Orbeez gel blaster. … It’s just kids being kids, the way I see it,” Love said.

He said in his two years at the mall, he has seen many fights break out in the food court, and he just dismisses them as commonplace.

Madison Kline, who also works at the mall but did not want to identify where — so as to speak for herself and not for her employer — said she noticed the increased police and security presence for the first time on Feb. 4, months after she first saw the group of teenagers disrupting shoppers.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of violence and chaos from children,” Kline said. “I’ve worked in this mall for four years and this has never happened.”

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She said despite numerous complaints to the mall management staff, she has seen them take no action over the last few months, except for the recent increased police presence.

“We are under the impression that there would be a community uproar from mall management if we were to ban these kids, which I disagree,” Kline said. “All of the tenants are pretty fed up with it — our employees are scared. I have teenage employees who are scared to come to work.”

This article has been updated to correct the malls owned by Brookfield Properties.

Abby Zimmardi is a reporter covering Howard County for The Baltimore Banner. Zimmardi earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in December 2022.

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