What to know about recent gatherings of kids and teens on Main Campus

TUPD and PPD have responded to multiple on-campus meet-ups of children, estimated to be mostly around 10 to 15 years old, which have mostly ended in arrests.

Police have responded to multiple gatherings of children on campus that have mostly ended in arrests. | JACK LARSON / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Within the past two months, there have been four incidents of children and teenagers gathering in large numbers on Temple’s Main Campus, typically on the corner Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Broad Street. Two of the most recent incidents took place during Easter weekend.

During these meetups, kids or teens usually congregate in one spot and hang out. They take pictures or push and fight with each other, running around and crossing the street back and forth. However, during three of these recent gatherings, the Philadelphia Police Department arrested multiple individuals for violent behavior, like firing guns or throwing rocks at police officers. 

“It’s a challenging dynamic,” said Jennifer Griffin, vice president of public safety. “I would love it if the university was a space that everybody came and felt welcome, were peaceful and enjoyed this space together. That we didn’t have to have such an oversight and monitoring when they wanted to come [onto campus] but that’s unfortunately not the situation we have.”

Each gathering was arranged through social media, reaching tens to hundreds of children and highlighting the need for appropriate, engaging spaces for Philadelphia youth. Griffin supervised one of the gatherings on March 29 and believes most of the participants are 10 to 15 years old.

The plans originating online also allow the police departments to track them and respond to the events by stationing officers on the corner beforehand. SEPTA and Temple Police are made aware of the posts through the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center, which tracks all large gatherings, like protests, sports events and gatherings like these. From there, Philadelphia Police and TUPD can increase police presence, even if it’s not certain anyone will show up.

“The majority of these gatherings are targeting our youth via social media,” a PPD spokesperson wrote in an email to The Temple News. “We need family and community members to contact us as soon as they hear there is going to be one of these gatherings in their neighborhoods. This will give us an opportunity to deploy our resources to those areas and help in keeping our communities safe.”

These gatherings, sometimes referred to as “flash mobs,” are not a new occurrence, but they likely increased at the end of March as schools were out for Spring Break. Cecil B. Moore Avenue and North Broad Street may have been repeatedly chosen because it’s convenient for children to access, with SEPTA’s Cecil B. Moore subway station right there, Griffin said.

TUPD wants to find a balance respecting the First Amendment and right to gather while responding to the violence that arises from the meet-ups. The department is looking into preventative measures by meeting with mentors in the community and after school programs to discuss making more productive spaces on campus for young people.

“We can’t solve these issues with juvenile crimes from a law enforcement standpoint, just from an enforcement aspect,” Griffin said. “There has to be something else to get them to do other things or join other activities.”

Many spaces in Philadelphia, including the Howard Gittis Student Center, don’t allow teenagers or children. Last year, Philadelphia’s Fashion District banned unaccompanied minors from entering after 2 p.m., when school typically lets out. The mall cited recent disruptive gatherings of teenagers as the reason for the ban.

Griffin has since met with a community leader to discuss how to safely engage with children and teenagers on campus for activities like after school mentorship or athletics.

Along with the limited choices for children and teen hangouts and the accessibility of the area, the use of social media affects the scale and influence of these gatherings.

“What social media allows is that quick spread of this information to create a sense of group,” said Bruce Hardy, a communication and social influence professor. “[Social media] creates an ‘us versus them’ in a way. So in group, out group. You’re part of a group of people that are coordinating to meet in a specific area, that creates a sense of identity within the group. And that creates a social pressure for folks to participate.”

Griffin and PPD Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel have urged parents to become more involved in reporting these plans to the PPD beforehand or engaging their children in other activities to prevent them from wanting to participate.

“We’re going to keep working on it, and we’re not just looking at short term, but long term solutions,” Griffin said. “It’s also not the strategy to have 40 police officers out here every time somebody goes on social media and says they’re going to do a meet up. It is not realistic and it’s not sustainable. So we’re continuing to work on a plan on how we attack it.”

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