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'Idiotic' flash mob disrupts Center City

Ridiculous. Idiotic. Inexplicable.

That's how Police Commissioner Richard Ross described a disruptive flash mob that descended on Center City on Monday evening, as hundreds of teenagers caused chaos around City Hall about 5:30.

Ross said Tuesday that some estimates pinned the number of participants at 1,000, most of whom seemed to show up because of information on social media. About 20 teens were cited for disorderly conduct, Ross said, while at least four were being investigated for assaulting about a half-dozen other teens in the group.

"I don't know why you would want to come down to Center City and act that way," the commissioner said. "Just to be clear, [I'm] not indicting everyone that came, but nonetheless, enough of these young people came down there and wreaked havoc."

Police did not identify any of the participants or those who were cited, and Ross said any potential criminal charges had not yet been approved. He said that the four allegedly involved in the assault on 15th Street beat the victims with their hands and feet, and that there were allegations that some people used pepper spray.

Investigators were still sorting out what exactly incited the group to come together. An early dismissal from school Monday could have been a factor, officials said, along with chatter that spread across social media.

The flash-mob phenomenon is nothing new in Philadelphia. Violent gatherings began to pop up in the city in 2009 with the growth of social media, and at least three such incidents have happened here within the last six months.

Ross said police have detailed officers recently to Center City in an effort to prevent mayhem, though he lamented having to deploy additional personnel to try to prevent such behavior.

"We do have other things to do," he said. "We have a whole host of other responsibilities, and devoting resources to something that really doesn't have to be is ridiculous."

Last year, on Dec. 27, an estimated 400 teens used the social-media app Snapchat to organize a gathering at the Philadelphia Mills Mall. It took nearly two hours for authorities to clear the area. Four teens were arrested for causing a disturbance and assaulting police.

In November, six people – including an off-duty police officer and his wife – were injured in a flash-mob attack that began around 16th and Walnut Streets. Two 16-year-old boys were arrested.

An estimated 150 teens participated in a violent October flash mob on Temple University's North Philadelphia campus that was organized over Instagram, police said. At least six civilians, one police officer, and a police horse were assaulted in that incident.  Four juveniles, ages 14 to 17, were arrested.

Ross acknowledged that the police response Monday was slower than he hoped and "may not have worked for us the way we wanted."

But he said police would continue to monitor Center City and patrol for such activity — particularly as the weather gets warmer — and he encouraged parents and residents to help prevent kids from attending these types of events, and to quickly report suspicious behavior to police.

"We will have the requisite number of people down here," he said.