Independence mall: curfew working?

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

Amid a series of public safety incidents in the latter part of 2020 – after some disturbances involving large groups of teenagers and before a shooting on New Year’s Eve – Independence Center enacted a curfew of its own for weekends.

No unaccompanied juveniles are allowed after 3 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Independence Center has struggled with the loss of stores and a series of crimes, but the company that owns it says it's gotten a handle on security issues. It says the youth curfew on weekends has worked.

Those safety concerns accompanied questions about the mall’s long-term viability given the nationwide retail trends – and that was before Macy’s announced it would be leaving its now-boarded up space on the east end.

Officials with IPG Business Group, the company that bought the mall in early 2019, say the big safety questions are largely in the rear-view mirror thanks to the curfew and beefed-up security, and they say based on prior experience that the security investment can pay off.

IPG brought in John Sauerberg, who has led the company’s similar-sized mall in Moreno Valley, California, to be director of operations and head of security at Independence Center. He’s revamping security both in personnel and technology, and said he says he can already notice more people visiting the mall.

“Our mindset is we want this to be the safest place in Missouri,” Sauerberg said. “To be honest, whenever I come back, after dealing with a couple issues and putting up our regulations, we have more shoppers coming in. People are loving the presence, and bringing back the sense of security.”

“We have done curfews with other properties, and these are usually lifted after a period of time,” added Dan Thompson, vice president of leasing for IGP. “They are very successful in controlling the unescorted youth.”

The city has long maintained two full-time police officers at the mall during the week and for a short time with the curfew policy committed some extra officers. The mall prior to IPG also had some of its own security and some off-duty officers. IGP would not divulge numbers but says it has twice the police officers and has more than doubled overall security personnel.  

“When we added off-duty officers, and they added security, according to the off-duty officers who’ve worked there, due to the increase in presence, they’ve seen a reduction” in disturbances, said John Syme, public information officer for the Independence Police Department. Other than some extra officers for a short time when the 3 p.m. policy was first started, Syme confirmed IPD hasn’t committed additional officers at the mall beyond its regular two full-timers, so any additional police presence comes from off-duty officers at the mall’s expense.

Sauerberg said that in addition to more visible security, the company is adding cameras. Again, they don’t give an exact number, but Sauerberg said that when all have been installed, they’ll be able to view all of the mall’s more than 1 million square feet.

Mall visitors found to cause problems can be subject to a lifetime ban, Sauerberg said, and could be arrested for trespassing if they’re found on mall property afterwards. Security officers will have devices containing digital files of those who have caused trouble and received bans, he said. The mall is also working with IPD to install a license plate reader. 

All of the security measures not only can be a deterrent, but also aid investigations if any future incident occurs, Sauerberg said.

“It’s 21st-century details,” he said.

“John was in charge in our California mall, and we had very similar problems there,” said Matt Ilbak, CEO of IGP. “He 100 percent changed the mall. The Macy’s there does the best in that area, and the mall is 100 percent full.”

Syme said IPD remains willing to help as needed, but he acknowledges it is helpful not to have disturbances involving hundreds of youth, which can then scatter around the 39th Street retail area and cause the Police Department, which is working to fill several vacant officer positions, to have to comb a larger area.

“Silliness doesn’t wait for any specific time of day,” he said. “We love coming to help, but if there’s a way to avoid it, which is what curfew for, that’s good.”