Mall in Columbia adopts weekend chaperone policy
Teenagers under 18 soon will need adult supervision to enter and shop at The Mall in Columbia on weekend nights, which the center hopes will discourage large gatherings of young teens and fighting that has escalated in recent months.
The Howard County mall’s “Parental Guidance Required” policy, similar to one adopted several years ago at Towson Town Center, will be in effect Fridays and Saturdays after 4 p.m. starting March 31. Anyone under 18 will need a parent or 21-year-old or older adult accompanying them. The rules will be enforced throughout the property, including the exterior sidewalks and parking lots.
“We’ve had some disruptive behavior on the weekends,” Mary Williams, the mall’s senior general manager, said Thursday. “It escalated over the last few months.”
In recent months large groups of young people have come to the mall and behaved in ways that violated the center’s code of conduct, she said, including fighting or blocking storefronts, typically on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Sherry Llewellyn, a spokesperson for the Howard County Police Department, said the mall contacted police a few weeks ago “about the behavior of some young people in the area.”
Police have increased patrols around the mall since then, and fewer incidents have been reported, Llewellyn said. While mall security will enforce the new teen supervision plan, police will continue to respond to criminal law violations and maintain a presence to address any criminal activity, she said.
The hope is to “maintain a very family-friendly and comfortable environment, for safety and comfort and just to provide that atmosphere that we want all of our shoppers to experience,” Williams said. “We want everyone to come to the mall, we want everyone to enjoy it, young and old. We just felt like the disruptive behavior was creating a less than friendly environment.”
The Columbia mall’s policy is similar to the one imposed by Towson Town Center in 2016. Both the Columbia and Towson malls are owned by New York-based Brookfield Properties.
Communities in Baltimore and surrounding areas have dealt with disturbances stemming from gatherings of large groups of people, many of them youths.
In February 2022, authorities arrested six minors 12 and 17 years old after fights broke out at the Towson mall. In another incident near that mall in December, eight people — seven of them youths — were arrested in downtown Towson after a “large and unruly crowd” caused disturbances and property damage on a Friday night, according to Baltimore County Police.
At the Columbia shopping center, which has a greater than 95% occupancy rate, mall security officers will be stationed at mall entrances to check IDs of visitors who appear to be younger than 18. One adult can accompany up to four youths and must stay with them at the mall. Optional wristbands will be offered to anyone with ID showing they are at least 18.
Williams said Brookfield has imposed the parental guidance policy at other malls across the country.
“This program works really well for us across our portfolio,” she said. “We’ve had great success with it. Typically it is well-received by the community.”