Curfews and Parental Escorts Deter Teen Shoppers from Malls

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Retail theft in America has increased by 94 percent in the last five years. While it’s true that the theft rates were spurred on by the pandemic, the incidents are no longer coming from a place of necessity. The violence and aggression of retail crimes have also increased, which has led to the death of numerous mall security guards across the nation.

ID-scanning policies have long been the norm at convention centers, bars, and performance spaces. These policies require every single mall visitor to scan their ID prior to entering the venue. When teens are stopped while on the premises, their IDs are also scanned, holding mall security accountable for appropriately enforcing policies. This policy could help put a stop to racial profiling.

Young people make up the lion’s share of the retail thieves. Around 25 percent of shoplifters are underage and a total of 66.6 percent of total shoplifters are under 30 years of age. Mall violence and thievery have been exacerbated by TikTok, which has become a rallying ground for youths looking to cause a little anarchy.

Retailers in malls are responding by rolling out mall curfews and escort policies, reminiscent of NYPD’s “stop and frisk” program which was found to be unconstitutional. Let’s take a look at which malls are rolling out curfew and escort policies, what critics have to say about them, and how they can be ethically enforced –– without targeting marginalized groups.

Retailers Across the U.S. Roll Out Stringent Teen Curfew Policies

Malls began enforcing curfew and escort policies back in the 1980s. The largest mall in the U.S., the Mall of America was one of the first to limit after-hours youth activity. The Mall of America rolled out a stringent teen escort policy in the 90s that was revised to restrict youths even further in 2012. A bevy of malls, amusement parks, and restaurants have recently followed suit.

“Large crowds of teens” who “aren’t just enjoying the property” led Westfield Garden State Plaza of New Jersey to announce restrictions requiring anyone under the age of 18 to be accompanied by an adult chaperone after 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Westfield isn’t alone in taking action: The Mall at Robinson in Pittsburgh, Ohio, Trumbull Mall of Connecticut, the entire Fashion District of Philadelphia, the Columbia Mall in Maryland, and many others have rolled out similar policies this year.

It’s not just malls that are restricting teen activity. A Target store located at the Valley Plaza Mall in Bakersfield, CA will soon enforce a chaperone policy, requiring teenagers to be accompanied by a guardian when entering the store after 4:00 p.m. Amusement parks aren’t immune, either. “Increasing incidents of unruly and inappropriate behavior” led Knott’s Berry Farm to place a ban on customers age 15 and younger visiting the main park or its water park unchaperoned past 4:00 p.m. Kings Island Amusement Park in Cincinnati now has a similar policy. Heck, even the ever-controversial Chik-fil-A now has a teen escort policy in place.

History Shows that Curfews Are Disproportionately Enforced

 Curfews have long been a contentious topic, on both a business and state level. However, for the purpose of this article, we’re not going to focus on the effectiveness of teen curfews that are already being enforced nationwide. The more pertinent topic is how retailers can enforce curfews without targeting marginalized communities or deterring prospective customers.

The reality is that curfew and escort policies are rarely enforced equally. Mall security is often given free rein to check the I.D.s of anyone who looks under the age of 18. Therein lies the problem. Without sensitivity training, law enforcement has been proven to disproportionately target people of color. And as a teen, repeat police interactions (especially when unwarranted) can have catastrophic consequences for the mental health and development of kids in marginalized communities.

The Guardian recently likened mall curfew and escort policies to the NYCPD’s “stop and frisk” program (since discontinued), which let police temporarily detain and search civilians on the basis of “reasonable suspicion.” The policy has since been proven to disproportionately target people of color, particularly Black and Latino young men. In fact, from 2003-2022, 90 percent of people stopped by the NYPD were people of color. Although white New Yorkers represent 33 percent of the population, they only made up 10 percent of stops.

Successful Initiatives Hinge on Sensitivity Training and Accountability

Now let’s talk about solutions. It’s dangerous to give mall security and law enforcement free rein to target young people. This quickly results in young people from marginalized communities being treated like thieves, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Beyond societal implications, these policies can create a negative shopping environment, deter paying customers, and can have terrible optics for the brand enforcing them, not to mention the malls themselves.

Retailers need to ensure their security guards aren’t acting on implicit bias. The path forward isn’t complicated, but it does require an up-front investment to prevent kerfuffles down the line. Of course, all effective security programs hinge upon diversity and inclusion training on the front end –– that’s the bare minimum. From there, ID-scanning technology holds great potential to ensure curfew policies are being fairly enforced.

ID-scanning policies have long been the norm at convention centers, bars, and performance spaces. These policies require every single mall visitor to scan their ID prior to entering the venue. When teens are stopped while on the premises, their IDs are also scanned, holding mall security accountable to appropriately enforcing policies. This policy could help put a stop to racial profiling, as security supervisors can easily see who is being stopped. But it can also benefit public safety, as it will assist in identifying suspects who are involved in prior retail theft or violent crimes.

Whether one is for, against, or indifferent to parental escort policies is irrelevant: they’re happening and they’re only going to become more stringent in nature. But the onus falls upon the mall to ensure that the policies are executed in a way that they’re not traumatizing young children (or destroying the mall’s reputation). The success of each anti-theft initiative hinges on accountability, which starts with putting the right infrastructure in place.

As an advocate for next gens, particularly those who are marginalized and unfairly targeted, these nascent mall policies could easily backfire in diminishing goodwill and inclusivity. Sometimes the easiest solution is not the best one in the long run. Finding an impartial solution, free from unconscious (or conscious) bias on the part of security has a better chance of preventing theft and dangerous shenanigans.

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