If movie theaters and other venues where teens like to congregate don’t have a security plan in place to help stem large gatherings and future violence, the Mobile City Council might look at pulling their business licenses.
While no recommendation was made to that effect at a public safety committee meeting Tuesday, Councilman John Williams and others hinted at the possibility — all of which stemmed from a Christmas night shooting in the parking lot of the Carmike Wynnsong 16 that left four wounded.
“The theaters need to buy in, or find another place to do business,” Williams said. “We don’t want to shut down businesses, but we are willing to do it.”
The shooting was the result of a large crowd of mostly juveniles, numbering between 400 and 1,000 that had formed in the Wynnsong 16 parking lot on the evening of Dec. 25. According to authorities, unsupervised children as young as 8 years old were in the crowd.
Mobile Police Chief James Barber said an off-duty police officer was on the scene working security that night, and backup was called, but it was hard to disperse the crowd because many had been dropped off by parents and didn’t have rides home.
The shooting occurred, Barber said, after a confrontation between two boys while uniformed police officers were already on the scene. According to Barber, there were two guns involved with several rounds fired from at least one of them.
The shooting resulted in non-life-threatening injuries to three juveniles and an 18-year-old man. One of the victims was shot in the abdomen and required surgery, Barber said adding that all of the injuries were unintentional due to the “indiscriminate gunfire.”
Barber said the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the holiday and the fact that many of the teens and children in the crowd were unsupervised helped create the atmosphere that led to the situation at Wynnsong.
The committee meeting took place at Mobile Police Department headquarters on Government Street on Tuesday, and followed meetings Barber had with managers of the city’s two largest theaters, Wynnsong and Regal Hollywood 18 at McGowin Park.
Barber said he had suggested making changes to the theaters’ security protocols, which would help to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. Among the suggestions made, Barber said, one was to ensure the theaters had a security plan in place, approved by the MPD, that would prevent large crowds of juveniles from forming in the parking lots.
Barber also referenced policy changes made at the Hollywood Theater after a similar incident that occurred on Christmas of 2014, and suggested Wynnsong take similar steps.
Today, Barber said, the Regal property doesn’t allow unsupervised minors at the theater after 7 p.m. However, he also told councilors he has suggested improving the available surveillance capabilities at the theaters.
Barber suggested West Mobile theater join the MPD intelligence sharing service “Project Shield” so that officers could access security camera footage in real time. The program is voluntary, and at the time of last month’s shooting, Wynnsong was not participating.
Barber said a local general manager from Regal and Carmike as well as a regional manager with Carmike were among the business representatives he met with, and they all expressed a desire to work with law enforcement. However, Barber did say he still needed to hear from the theaters’ corporate offices.
Despite the tough talk from some councilors, Committee Chairwoman Bess Rich said the council didn’t want to have to pull the business licenses of the theaters and said there would be another meeting called once Barber has made contact with the theaters’ management.
However, Councilman Fred Richardson supported Williams’ idea of pulling business licenses of theaters and other establishments that don’t provide proper security plans.
Adding to that, Councilman C.J. Small suggested going beyond just movie theaters to look at other places and events where large crowds of juveniles can form, like Mardi Gras, the MoonPie drop and skating rinks.
The meeting also consisted of an executive session that lasted about 45 minutes. Under Alabama law, the media is not allowed into those closed sessions. The council has also not released any details about the theaters’ current or future security plans.
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