Hobart police, mall officials increase presence during holidays

2012-11-25T17:45:00Z 2012-12-20T15:52:58Z Hobart police, mall officials increase presence during holidaysDeborah Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

HOBART | Police presence was everywhere at Westfield Southlake Mall at the start of the holiday season this past weekend.

Some of it wasn't obvious.

Among those patrolling was Assistant Police Chief Vance Thompson.

Thompson, dressed in street clothes, walked and kept a watchful eye for possible crimes or anything that might not go along with the mall's code of conduct.

"Just scanning," Thompson said.

The increased number of police and security during the holidays is part of a zero tolerance policy for misconduct at the mall, officials said.

"As long as people behave there's not an issue at all," Thompson said.

Hobart police officer Mike Webber, who had been at the mall Friday night, said there had been the usual shoplifting arrests and a fight within a line of teenage bargain hunters vying to buy athletic shoes.

"It wasn't that bad. I worked Friday and it was like a busy Saturday night. I think the police presence has helped out hugely," Webber said.

Hobart police officer Ryan Snedecor said he had escorted a man out of the mall after he was asked to pull up his sagging pants and refused to do so.

"It's usually the kids in the 15- and 16-year-old range," Webber said. "They have the biggest mouths."

Police and mall officials met in mid-November to discuss an action plan in light of a Nov. 10 shooting incident. Four juveniles were arrested but there were no injuries in the shooting.

That plan includes strongly enforcing the mall's code of conduct, mall general manager Peter Karonis said.

Those who don't follow the code, which lists 17 violations, can be ordered to leave the mall.

"Misbehavior by anyone will not be accepted," Karonis said.

Under the code of conduct, individuals can't physically or verbally threaten any person, can't fight, annoy others, follow another person or use sexually explicit language or conduct, or in any way cause a disturbance to patrons.

Other violations that can result in an individual's removal from the mall include congregating or loitering in groups of three or more, the use of physical force, obscene language or ethnic slurs, and the possession of any item that could be used as a weapon.

The mall and police have maintained a good partnership, which includes police training and visits by the canine unit, mall marketing director Lisa DeVries said.

The partnership includes a police substation inside the mall, DeVries said.

"The Hobart Police Department is a very valuable partner from both a safety and community standpoint," DeVries said.

The mall, on U.S. 30 east of Mississippi Street, was evacuated about 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 after a shot was fired in one of the mall's open areas after two groups of youths got into a fight.

Off-duty Hobart police officers working mall security apprehended three Gary teens, who were later charged in Lake County Juvenile Court, police said.

A fourth teen, a 15-year-old from Gary, was later arrested and also charged, police said.

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