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Officers sent to watch over youths at mall

Every Friday night, the Crystal River Mall is host to the young crowd _ sometimes a couple hundred youngsters at a time.

They mostly hang out inside, in the hallway near Kmart and the movie theater. Or they will congregate in the front or rear mall entrances near Kmart.

The youths range in age from 12 to 19, but the majority are students from Crystal River Middle School and Lecanto Middle School, according to Crystal River police. On Friday afternoons, after school lets out, some will walk to the mall and stay until the mall closes. In other cases, their parents drop them off.

Fridays are "middle-school night at the mall," police Corporal Ian Hay said. ". . . Wall-to-wall middle schoolers."

"They're not shopping. They're not eating at the food court. They're not going to the movies," Hay said. "They're just hanging out."

But they don't just hang out, Hay said. Some run around, climb on furniture, scream and act obnoxiously.

Officials are now hoping to crack down on the problem.

Starting Friday, two Crystal River police officers were assigned to the scene, walking around and breaking up groups. This coming Friday, there also will be two officers on deck.

And the following Friday, the start of Spring Break, there will be three officers at the mall.

Police will issue citations to juveniles caught smoking and they will send letters to parents.

Hay said some may be asked not to return to the mall, and will be arrested and charged with trespassing if they do.

Police have received complaints about the youngsters from residents, businesses in the mall and mall security.

Some of the youths "act as if they're in the middle of a playground instead of the middle of a shopping mall," said mall manager James E. Regan.

There have been some retail thefts. But most of all, adults are now staying away from the mall because it seems it has been taken over by kids, Hay said.

Between police and mall security, Regan believes the problem will be under control.

"It's a problem. It's not out of hand. It's not a major problem. It's a problem that could grow to be out of hand," Regan said.

_ Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at 860-7312 or