This can be a slippery slope. On the one hand, you have to be aware of behavior that makes the majority of customers uncomfortable. On the other hand, you have to know what behavior is acceptable or not and whether one’s mental capacity allows for it.
Working at a mall I’ve had a variety of experiences in trying to keep everyone comfortable and happy while taking into account mental handicaps.
I’ve had to explain to customers that no, I am not kicking someone out of the mall just because you don’t like that they’re wearing a long coat and look like a ‘columbine shooter.’ They’ve given no reason to be asked to leave and there is no rule saying they can’t wear a long coat. My personal rule of thumb has been that if someone is dressed to receive a lot of attention, they are less likely to try and do something illegal because everyone is already watching them. (I’ll be writing about style vs. security in another post)
But the same goes for behavior. Everyone deserves to be able to get out of the house and go out in public. Depending on ones’ medical/mental issues, you may have a caregiver with you. I know that having physical/medical issues does not mean that one is mentally deficient, and I’ve always treated those customers as such. I have no problem walking them to a non-automatic door and helping them out, or picking something up for them, or moving something so they can get out of a tight spot; that’s just being a decent person to another person. I do take issue with people that have a designated, qualified caregiver with them, but then are abandoned or ignored by the caregiver and left to cause a scene or trouble, when it is completely not their fault! We had that happen at my both my 1st and 2nd malls.
1st mall. There were yells of a fight in the food court. Myself and a new officer were on duty. We rushed over and found 2 men holding down a much larger man on the ground on his back, one at his arms, one at his feet. The man on the ground was so strong that he was lifting them men up when he flexed his feet and arms! We asked the 2 men what was happening. They said it wasn’t any of our business. This was a Saturday in the middle of the mall; everyone was watching the show, and it was embarrassing! We finally got it out of them that they were caretakers with a local home for the mentally handicapped and they had brought a van of their charges to the mall for a field trip and this was one of their charges who was throwing a temper tantrum. I asked if there was someone we could call to get them more help. They would not give us the name of their company or a number. We asked if we could help control him. We tried talking to him, telling him he had to behave and be good. But he was in a rage and actually got a hold of the caretaker hold his arms, biting his forearm. We decided to call the police, because the caretakers could not control their charge and we didn’t want him getting loose and hurting other customers, nor could we take the responsibility of physically intervening. The police got there fast and a big, burly officer started talking to the man. It must have been his tone of voice because the man went meek and listened to the officer’s every word! The caretakers were finally able to let him up and the man was as obedient as could be to the officer. He actually told the officer he was upset because the caretakers had not let him buy a certain toy (the caretakers explained that he hadn’t had enough money for it, and had gotten violent when they explained he couldn’t have it) It turned-out there were about a dozen people from the home with another caretaker at a nearby table. The officer told them it might be best if they brought the man back to the home. The caretakers started arguing with the officer, but we agreed too, that it might be best and the better behaved ones were welcome to stay. The Officer went out with them to the van, and this is where it got interesting:
There was another mental home resident in the van! Apparently, he had been misbehaving and the caretakers left him in there, not allowing him to come in the mall as a punishment. I think at this point the police pushed for information from the caretakers about who they worked for. While they were doing that, they put their first charge in the van where he and the one already in the van promptly started fighting! Apparently, the two didn’t get along and they thought it wise to bring the two on a field trip together! I think the entire group ended-up leaving at that time and the home was investigated for abuse of its residents.
My issue with this entire incident was bringing such a large group of mentally handicapped people out at the busiest time on the busiest day with inadequate staff to handle them. At my 2nd mall, there were similar groups who had a least 1 caretaker to ever 2 residents. This group didn’t have enough staff and didn’t seem well enough trained to watch the state of their charges and make sure they weren’t getting overloaded or overstimulated. My 2nd issue with the scenario was when our security supervisor found out, he said that we let the stand-off go on for too long and that we should have pepper sprayed and handcuffed the man to keep him subdued! (he was an older gentleman and may not have had the same type of training that myself and newer officers had) I had to explain that that would have been like putting gasoline on the fire; he would have thought he was being attacked and would have reacted without thought or restraint. I had to explain the strength of the mentally handicapped because they don’t recognize how to hold back; that this man would have been a raging 5-year old in a 6 ft tall body. I also asked him, how would that have looked in front of all those witnesses, and what would the local paper have read? “Local Mall Pepper Sprays Customer With Down Syndrome” ??? I think I made him understand, but he still grumbled about us ‘not being able to handle 1-man.’ Sigh. In any case, the mall forgot about it within a week, and I don’t think that home did another field trip to my mall so long as I was there.
2nd mall. A very outgoing young man was in a wheelchair after suffering brain trauma that damaged his motor function and impulse/self control. He had a caregiver who was supposed to take him to the mall to socialize and be in public, so he could re-learn appropriate behavior. The problem was she left him to go shopping so he would get into trouble by being inappropriate with people and having security called on him, when the caregiver was not there to correct him! Now the employees and security knew him, knew his issues, and knew that he was not a threat. But the random lady that he followed around the store talking too even when she asked him to go away DID NOT, and was scared. Though, I’m not sure how scared you have to be of someone in a wheelchair with limited muscle control… Mostly, it seemed to be husbands and boyfriends who got offended on their behalf. A lot of times, we responded, let them know that his behavior was completely out of his control, page his caregiver, and hand him over. I did NOT like that she would scold him and tell him to remember for next time; lady, you explained to us that he WON’T even remember what he did wrong in 5 minutes, and you expect him to remember this lesson for the next time? I wish I had thought to report her to his family or whatever company she was from, but it didn’t occur to me and I don’t think she would have been very free with that information. But, in this scenario security understood that the man meant no harm and did not deserve to be kicked-out of the mall.
2nd mall. In a second scenario, we had another young man who was notorious for following women and going into areas of the mall that were off-limits to non-employees. He was slightly mentally disabled, but was employed at a nearby gas station and perfectly able to travel by himself and know the difference between right and wrong. He had a fascination with shoes, and we’d get calls from stores on behalf of female customers complaining about a man watching them and following them. In several instances, a female customer would turn around and nearly trip over this man, who was kneeling on the floor to look at her shoes! About half the mall stores had banned him because he had a habit of following female employees into employee-only areas, and making customers uncomfortable. Security would approach him and remind him what he was doing was wrong and ask him to leave for the day. This is where we knew that HE knew what he was doing; he would go out one door, but then circle back through a side door and sneak back into the mall. He was smart enough to watch us patrol and figure when he could get into a store he was banned from without us stopping him. Several times it almost came to blows because he was caught following a woman and was confronted by a husband or boyfriend; we had to intervene and explain his mental issues, which certainly was not our job or responsibility!
In this scenario, he KNEW he was breaking rules, and should have been banned from the property. But for some reason, for at least 3-years, mall management would not let us ban him. I think they believed that he didn’t have as much control over his actions as we knew he did, and that he would come back on property anyway, forcing us to waste our time calling the police, filing trespass paperwork and having to go to court. We tried to argue that wasn’t making the female customers feel safe more of a priority than pandering to to this man? And what would happen when we had to go to court when someone finally punched him for following a woman, and it came to light that we ‘allowed’ this man to ‘harass’ customers and employees for year? On deaf ears the arguments fell. It took until the day the man followed one of the mall manager’s wife to stores off-property, and to her home, that he was finally banned.
In the first case, the man did not understand he was being inappropriate. In the 2nd case, the man knew, but kept doing it because he kept getting away with it. We had a 3rd scenario (This will inspire a later post about ‘Ageism’) with a group of elderly men that met at the mall almost daily. About 8 of them would circle some benches and socialize for about 2-hours a day. They always chose the same benches at the same part of the mall. They were all widowed and, sometimes, loudly discussed ‘modern day’ women. And not in very gentlemanly terms. They were also all half-deaf, so when they thought they were ‘whispering’ about a passing woman, it actually carried half way down the mall! We actually got complaints from female store employees that would not walk down to that end of the mall on their breaks for food because they would have to pass these men! Strangely, we had rules governing the moving of mall benches, and rules about the congregation of groups of 4- or more non-related people, but we were never allowed to make this group of men move along. The stores nearby suffered because nobody wanted to pass them to get to the entrances of these stores. They also never put their benches back after their ‘meetings.’ We were just told that they were ‘old and didn’t know better’ and they weren’t causing any harm. I wanted the mall management to have to explain to a complaining female customer why we couldn’t do anything about the men wolf-whistling and calling ‘Look at the legs on THAT filly!’ regardless of how old they were! In my opinion, they knew perfectly well that they made people uncomfortable, but they figured that because of their age they were due respect without having to give it in return, and since we never addressed the behavior, it continued and got worse. The group was still meeting when I left that particular job, and nothing had changed.
2nd mall. We had a 3rd somewhat regular customer and her caretaker come in on occasion. This was a woman, younger, who seemed to have control issues and what seemed like tourettes almost. They were ‘mall walkers,’ I think the caretaker thought it was good exercise for the woman, who was a little heavy. But whenever they were in the mall, the woman was constantly repeating lines, sayings, phrases, sometimes at yelling volume. I recognized some of what she was saying as movie lines. She seemed to have this impulse to repeat a line over and over…for hours. Her caretaker would hush her when she started getting loud, but in another few minutes she’d raise her voice again and it would scare the daylights out of whoever she was walking near! I don’t know what kind of movies she had been watching, but once I heard her voice screaming “(Movie Character’s Name Here) MUST DIE!!!” Again, security had to field questions from concerned customers about the woman, and explain that she just couldn’t help her outbursts. I just wish her caretaker would have kept her volume down, or tried to limit what she repeated and/or taken her outside when she got too loud.
And there were the times when security would get called for an issue regarding someone who we did not know what mentally disabled, and then got ripped by family for our ‘insensitivity.’ Or in this case, a situation that was blown out of reality. Security got a call from a store at the end of the mall for a screaming child. They couldn’t see where it was coming from, but wanted to make sure everything was ok. My coworker and I started walking that way. He got around the corner where the short, pained-sounding screams were coming from first. He walked around the corner, I could see him look, then he walked back to me before I saw for myself. He explained that it was a possibly mentally handicapped teen in a wheelchair with his family letting out the screams at random and there was no issue. So we walked over to the store and let them know that everything was all right. They thanked us and we walked off. We weren’t in the area for more than a minute, and didn’t come within 30 ft of the family; it had been a straight line of site from where we rounded the corner. A little while later we got a call from the mall office. They said that an angry family came and complained that security FORCED them to leave the mall because their handicapped son was being fussy and that we were following them around the mall because they were ‘Black’ and they demanded a gift certificate for each member of the family! Luckily, everything we did on patrol was put in our daily logs. We explained exactly what happened, that we had responded to a call of a possible child in distress and left as soon as we saw the situation. We never ‘followed’ them and never told them to leave. Management didn’t give the family a thing.
Then you have your average teen or fit-throwing adult who is asked to leave the mall for their behavior. Oftentimes, stores would ask why we kicked them out so quickly when we allow (insert mentally handicapped regular here) to behave the same way. We had to explain about tolerance for behavior that was outside their control and add that how would that look in the local paper “popular mall kicked-out injured mentally handicapped man.” That would go over well with PR, wouldn’t it?