By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Clovis police are spending more time at the North Plains Mall in response to concerns and complaints about disruptive teens, according to Capt. Patrick Whitney
In recent weeks, Whitney said the police department has assigned its gang unit and patrol officers to walk through the mall on evenings and weekends in an effort to curb youth activity at North Plains Mall.
Police hope an increased presence will help cut down on loitering and behavioral issues.
Officers make contact with teens, support mall security and identify any potential gang activity, he said.
Police have received complaints about crowds and behavior that unsettles shoppers. Thus far there have been no major incidents, which Whitney said is part of what police want to prevent.
“They’re just making people uncomfortable. They’re just irritating people,” he said.
Part of the problem, Whitney said, is that “parents don’t know where their kids are… People drop their kids off to be baby-sat at the mall.”
Officers only make youth leave the premises at the request of mall personnel unless they are engaged in criminal activity, Whitney said.
As the holidays approach and teens are out of school, day-shift officers will add the mall to their routines, he said, explaining that during school vacation times, area youth become a larger issue for police.
“Our burglaries, criminal damages and graffiti all go up (when kids are out of school),” he said.
Mall Manager Cindy Banister declined to comment on the increased police presence.
In November, Banister said more than 100 youth were hanging out on Friday and Saturday nights. She said the high number of unsupervised youth disturbs shoppers and creates an unpleasant environment.
Bobbie Gonzales, assistant manager of Electronic Boutique, said her store is often overrun by youth.
She said children are unattended and just hang out. The crowds are overwhelming, and she has had problems with shoplifting, she said.
On top of that, Gonzales said she sometimes has to have parents paged because their young children are left unattended in the store for hours.
“We are not baby-sitters. (Parents) drop them off and take off. These (are) little kids. It’s pretty sad,” she said.
Gonzales said children as young as 4 years old have been left in her store, though most of the youth tend to be middle school to early high school aged. “They’re the real rowdy ones,” she said.
It makes it difficult to conduct business and help customers when the employees are forced to watch youth, she said.
The increased police presence has been a good thing, she said. When the police are at the mall, Gonzales said youth seem to behave better and their numbers are fewer.