BRAWL AT THE MALL: What does the latest fracas mean for the beleaguered mall’s reputation?


AURORA | In the wake of a chaotic scene that saw five juveniles arrested and Town Center at Aurora closed early on a busy shopping day, the response on social media was typically scathing for a mall that has long battled a bad reputation around the Front Range.

“Aurora mall has to be the worst place in Colorado,” read one tweet. Others said the mall has always been unsafe, while still more vowed not to shop their anymore.

The Dec. 26 incident cast a dim light on the mall near Interstate 225 and East Alameda Avenue — a place that has struggled with a bad rap for much of its history.

“There is a perception about the mall, but let’s just say the facts say otherwise,” said Aurora City Councilwoman Marsha Berzins, whose ward includes the busy shopping center. “There are incidents that happen at other malls, but there is that perception that the Aurora mall has more crime than it actually does.”

A spokeswoman for the company that owns the mall, Washington Prime Group, said company officials declined to comment for this story or discuss the mall’s reputation.

Improving the mall was so important to city leaders in 2003 that city council pledged up to $15 million in tax rebates to the owners to help cover the cost of a more than $100 million renovation. That renovation — which included a new food court and new entrances — also saw the mall change its name from Aurora Mall to Town Center at Aurora. According to city records, the city has paid out just $873,862 in rebates since the deal took effect.

As for crime at the mall, a review of violent crimes there over the past five years shows few incidents.

Since 2012, police have responded to a report of a violent crime at the mall — assault, robberies or sexual assault — 90 times. The bulk of those calls since 2012, 61 in all, were for reports of simple assault. According to police records, officers made an arrest or filed charges in 46 assault cases. Last year, there were 12 reported assaults at the mall, up from nine in 2014 and 2015.

Colorado doesn’t have many indoor malls like Town Center any more, but one similar mall, Southwest Plaza in Littleton, had five assault cases in 2015 and three in 2016, according to the Jefferson County sheriff’s office.

Town Center also saw a slight uptick in robbery cases in 2016, with eight calls in 2016 compared to four in 2014. Police made arrests or filed charges in four robbery cases at the mall last year.

There have been no murders at the Aurora mall since 2005, when one person was killed and two others injured in a shooting there. The Aurora theater shooting, in which 12 people were killed and 70 injured, occurred at Century Theatres adjacent from the shopping mall.

The Aurora mall was also one of several around the country where there were fights and other problems on the day after Christmas. Experts say it’s tough to determine whether those outbursts will have much of an impact on mall business.

Stephanie Cegielski, a spokeswoman fro the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group that represents malls around the world, said incidents like last week’s rarely lead to shoppers steering clear of a mall. She said she doubts last week’s incidents — which she attributed to “bored teenagers” — will lead to a dip in shoppers.

“From what I’ve heard there isn’t a concern, it seems to be very isolated incidents,” she said.

There were violent incidents around the country earlier in the year, she said, and those malls didn’t see customers stay away.

“It doesn’t seem to have really impacted the centers as far as people going there and whatnot,” she said.

As for a mall’s reputation, Cegielski said that is constantly evolving, particularly because of massive redevelopment projects. The old Villa Italia Mall in Lakewood and Southglenn Mall in Centennial were both redeveloped, for example, and she said the new shopping centers at each spot are vastly different from the malls they replaced.

Police said the incident Dec. 26 at Town Center involved a series of fights, and a group of people may have jumped on a police car during the chaos.

In all, five juveniles were arrested after the incident, including teens involved in a fight in the food court and a teen who police say tried to punch an officer.

Aurora police Sgt. Chris Amsler, a spokesman for the department, said the incident started when an officer spotted two teenage girls fighting in the food court.

The officer was off duty but working security in a full police uniform at the time, Amsler said.

“There wasn’t any mistake that this was a police officer,” he said.

When the officer tried to arrest a 13-year-old girl involved in the fight, the girl resisted, Amsler said, shouting cuss words and other insults at the officer.

The girl’s 16-year-old sister then intervened and tried to stop the officers, as did a 14-year-old friend. All three were later arrested.

As the loud scene unfolded, a massive crowd of about 100 people surrounded the officer and refused commands to back up, Amsler said.

Worried about the crowd, the officer called for assistance and several dozen more officers rushed to the scene.

A 15-year-old boy was arrested in the parking lot outside the food court after police say he tried to punch an officer. Another 15-year-old girl was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge, but Amsler said he didn’t yet have details about what that girl is accused of doing.

Police did not release the names of anyone arrested because they are all juveniles.

Amsler said officers also discovered a police cruiser was damaged and are investigating reports that someone in the crowd had climbed on top of it and jumped on it.

Detectives are also combing social media looking for a Facebook post that reportedly said there was going to be a large fight at the mall, Amsler said. Police have not yet found that post but believe it was part of the reason there were so many juveniles at the mall.

“We’re assuming the majority of them just went there because they heard there was going to be a fight, and they wanted to watch the fight,” he said.

It’s unclear if the incident was gang-related, but Amsler said investigators are looking into that possibility.

The incident at the Aurora mall was one of several similar chaotic scenes that happened around the country the day after Christmas — including an incident in Aurora, Illinois — but Amsler said police don’t believe there is a link.

Police are asking anyone with information about additional fights or people damaging a police car to call Detective Eric White at 303-739-6011.

The mall was evacuated and closed the evening of the incident but reopened at 10 a.m. the following day.