Joel Torres had been at the Cherry Hill Mall with his friends for more than two hours Thursday afternoon when he stepped outside shortly after 4 p.m. to grab some money from his dad. Gift cards and cash in hand, the 14-year-old from Camden strolled back through the doors to find his friends, only to be stopped by a towering security guard.
“Do you have an adult with you? How old are you? No one under 18 is permitted inside.”
He was told to exit the premises or return with an adult. He tried to explain that he had just been inside, but the guard was not persuaded, citing the mall’s policy for the evening.
Torres was one of many teens who was denied entry to the popular South Jersey mall between 4 and 9 p.m. the day after Christmas because he was not accompanied by an adult — a one-day requirement the mall implemented this year to prevent large crowds of teens from fighting and disturbing shoppers as they have in years past.
The mall hired approximately 40 off-duty Cherry Hill police officers to patrol the shopping center Thursday evening and hired a private security company to monitor the entrances and ID young adults before allowing them inside. The increased surveillance comes after what the Cherry Hill Police Department described as an “an increase in the number of unattended juveniles that are dropped off at retail shopping centers creating disturbances and engaging in criminal behavior."
Two years ago on the day after Christmas, from 700 to 1,000 unsupervised teens swarmed the Cherry Hill Mall, causing widespread disturbances and fights that resulted in five teens being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. No injuries or property damage was reported.
Last year, to prevent similar crowds, the mall closed two hours early, but things still became unruly at some points.
Cherry Hill Police Chief Bud Monaghan said his department started planning with mall officials in June. “It’s a proactive measure in response to not just incidents that have happened here ... but incidents that have happened throughout the country,” said Monaghan.
The scene inside the Cherry Hill shopping center was relatively calm around 6 p.m., with the usual post-Christmas crowds but no unruly youth. A large number of unaccompanied kids who had arrived before 4 p.m. were already inside. Others who were denied were seen finding new entrances without any security guards or asking adults in the parking lot to escort them inside.
Some 17-year-olds found the “teen ban” to be overkill.
“We’re old enough and mature enough to walk around the mall by ourselves,” said Lorenzo LoDuca, a 17-year-old from Lumberton. He said that he and his friends were originally denied at the upstairs entrance, but found a different door downstairs to easily enter the building.
“We just finessed it," he said. “This is where we hang out, where we come on dates. It’s where I met my girlfriend.”
It’s not particularly uncommon for stores to ban unsupervised youth — the glass doors of the Shops at Liberty Place read: “After 1:00 p.m. all persons under 18 years old must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.” Several shops in Rittenhouse Square have similar requirements, including the popular burger joint Five Guys, according to Billy Penn.