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St. Matthews Police Claim Crime Wave Around Mall

Criminal activity fueled largely by juveniles is surging in and around the Mall St. Matthews area, St. Matthews Police Department officers say.

Officers alluded to the spike in crime during a news conference on Wednesday in which they aimed to address incidents on Saturday that led to the early closure of the mall and have since drawn community backlash.

But St. Matthews Police refused to provide WFPL News with any proof of the supposed crime wave.

On Saturday, police reported groups of teens were causing disturbances at the mall. No arrests were made, and no thefts or damage were initially reported, said Officer Dennis McDonald, the St. Matthews Police Department spokesman.

Some experts have criticized the response from police and the news media, saying dubbing the event a "riot" was unfounded and irresponsible.

On Wednesday, McDonald said he disagreed with that criticism. He said he was proud of how police handled the event, saying they were unsure of exactly what they were responding to. He said residents were reporting shots had been fired, and officers feared for their own safety.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer told WDRB the entire event was blown out of proportion.

"It was sensationalized by the media, frankly," Fischer said.

McDonald has been adamant this week that the event was not isolated. St. Matthews Police Officer Tony Cobaugh spent nearly an hour Wednesday walking reporters through events he said have taken place in recent months involving juveniles on or near Mall St. Matthews property.

Cobaugh said officers have been dealing with a spike in crime since October, and those crimes have served as a "buildup" to what transpired Saturday. He said officers in recent months have seen more assaults, thefts, damages and weapons reported in and around the mall than ever before.

However, St. Matthews Police did not provide a comparative analysis of crimes reported during the same time in previous years. They also would not provide the reports to which they referred to media.

Cobaugh said he decided to "beef up" the police department's presence in and around the mall area in early November. That increased police presence, which included officers from the department's Special Response Team, which Cobaugh commands. But he said those efforts did not lead to a drop in incidents in the area.

He said the problems that occurred Saturday night and other incidents during the past few months are not specific to St. Matthews.

“It is a total community problem," Cobaugh said.

McDonald, also of St. Matthews Police, said young people should be encouraged to do something positive with their free time rather than gather in public places.

"Kids ought to be encouraged to join a sports team, join a club, join a youth organization and volunteer," he said.

When asked if St. Matthews city officials would work to set up any type of activities for youth looking for something to do, Mayor Richard Tonini said there are already churches, community centers and playgrounds for kids available. He added there is little available for young people to do in the evening.

Tonini said he'd "be happy to have a conversation" about ensuring evening activities are available for young people, but he's "not sure what we could do."

The event Saturday night prompted mall management company General Growth Properties to institute a new policy to ban anyone age 17 or younger from entering the mall after 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings without an adult over age 21.

The policy was introduced Wednesday afternoon in news release and on the Mall St. Matthews and Oxmoor Center Facebook pages. GGP owns both malls.

The new policy applies to anyone inside the malls, in the parking lots or on the exterior sidewalks, according to the news release.

Mall management was scheduled to attend the press conference with St. Matthews officials on Wednesday but backed out before it began.

In the release, Mall St. Matthews general manager David Jacoby said the new policy will be uniformly enforced and is designed to enhance the shopping experience "in ways the entire community will appreciate."

The policy will be temporary, according to the release. But mall management declined to answer repeated requests from WFPL News seeking elaboration on the specifics. Those include how long they consider temporary, whether the policy will be enforced on teenage employees of mall stores, and whether teenage parents must also adhere to the policy.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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