Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

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Disorderly Youth in Public Places

Guide No.6 (2001)

by Michael S. Scott

Translation(s): Campaas de Publicidad para la Prevencin del Delito (Espaol)

The Problem of Disorderly Youth in Public Places

Disorderly youthin public places constitute one of the most common problems most police agencies must handle. Dealing with youth disorder requires a significant amount of police time, particularly in suburban and rural communities. Disorderly youth are a common source of complaints from urban residents and merchants, as well as from shoppers and merchants in malls and business districts Dealing with youth disorder appropriately requires considerable police skill and sensitivity. Officers must balance youths rights against complainants rights, distinguish legitimate from illegitimate complaints, at times be firm and at times be flexible with young people, and remain sensitive to how the public will perceive police actions.

For the purposes of this guide, the terms youth, young people and teenagers are used interchangeably, with the understanding that some individuals discussed may not fall within the age ranges typically associated with these terms.

Related Problems

Disorderly youth in public places are only one of many disorder and youth-related problems police must handle. This guide addresses the relatively minor, but often highly annoying, misconduct associated with youth congregating in public. This guide does not address the more serious misconduct associated with youth gang violence and intimidation. Additional disorder and youth-related problems include:

  • assaults in and around bars,
  • graffiti,
  • intimidation by youth gangs,
  • large crowd management,
  • loud car stereos,
  • open-air drug dealing,
  • panhandling,
  • rave parties,
  • reckless bicycle riding and skateboarding,
  • shoplifting,
  • street cruising,
  • truancy,
  • underage drinking, and
  • vandalism.

Factors Contributing to Disorderly Youth in Public Places

Understanding the factors that contribute to your problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

That young people will congregate in public is both inevitable and socially necessary. Congregating is part of the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, allowing youth to socialize and bond with their peers, out of their parents view. Young peoples self-identity and self-worth are profoundly shaped by how they believe their peers perceive them, and gathering in public provides opportunities to see, and be seen by, others. Group settings provide a relatively safe context for teenagers to flirt and pair up with one another, supported and protected by their friends.

Because youth congregation in public is so ordinary and normal, you must first determine if youths conduct is actually disorderly and worthy of police attention. You must use sound judgment in deciding how to define the problem. Sometimes you will find that the heart of the problem is complaints that are either exaggerated or motivated by bias, in which case your responses should focus on educating complainants rather than controlling youths conduct. Whether the conduct is deemed disorderly depends on many factors, including:

  • the youths specific objectionable behavior,
  • the youths age,
  • the complainants tolerance levels,
  • the community norms, and
  • the specific times and places where the problem occurs.

Communities are often divided over what constitutes acceptable youth conduct. This is especially true in areas undergoing substantial demographic changefor example, an influx of youth where older residents predominated, or an influx of a new ethnic or racial group. Some misconduct, even if accepted by the community, might not be tolerable from a legal standpoint. Conversely, some youth conduct may bother some community members, but may be perfectly legal, perhaps even constitutionally protected. You must balance youths right to congregate in public against others right to be free from annoyance, harassment and intimidation. Furthermore, the legal grounds for disrupting youth gatherings in public are typically vague. It is easy to get frustrated by demands to control disorderly youth where no clear legal authority to do so exists.

Young people often do not fully appreciate their conducts effect on others. What they believe to be normal and legitimate behavior can sometimes make others apprehensive or afraid. Sometimes the mere presence of large youth groups, or their physical appearance (dress, hairstyles, body piercings, and tattoos), is intimidating regardless of their conduct. People often perceive youth groups congregating in public to be gangs and, therefore, dangerous. The elderly are particularly intimidated by large youth groups. In addition, group size may influence individual behaviorteenagers often behave in front of a group of peers in ways they would not if they were alone or in pairs.

Among the specific behaviors (some legal and some not) commonly associated with youth disorderly conduct are

  • playing music loudly,
  • cursing,
  • blocking sidewalks and streets,
  • playing games (football, soccer, stickball, etc.) in the street or near residences,
  • drinking alcohol, smoking and using illegal drugs,
  • making offensive remarks to passersby,
  • fighting,
  • littering,
  • applying graffiti,
  • vandalizing property, and
  • harassing security staff.

Such problem behavior most commonly occurs

  • at shopping malls,
  • in plazas in business districts,
  • at video arcades,
  • in public parks,
  • on school grounds,
  • in apartment-complex common areas,
  • at public libraries, and
  • at convenience stores and fast-food restaurants.

Disorderly youth are of particular concern to merchants because their presence intimidates shoppers, threatening revenues. Shoppers also frequently cite menacing youth as among their primary safety concerns.2However, young people themselves are a source of current and future revenue and, if treated poorly by merchants, will likely remember that treatment years later when choosing where to spend their money. Merchants are more likely to tolerate some disorderly behavior if the young people are also regular customers. You should be alert to these commercial interests.

Youth surveys have identified some common complaints teenagers have about their opportunities to socialize in public, and about how authorities treat them.3Their complaints include the following:

  • there is a lack of adequate facilities and activities for them,
  • the police and other authorities harass and excessively supervise them,
  • there is a lack of inexpensive food and entertainment for them,
  • there is a lack of adequate public transportation for them,
  • they do not always feel safe in public, and
  • merchants and others unfairly stereotype them.

Young people typically say they want a place where they can hang out without excessive supervision, where they have some source of food and entertainment, where they have protection from the weather, and where they are safe from attack by rival groups.

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of disorderly youth in public places. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy. To help you define the problem, you should speak with as many people affected by it as you can.

Many incidents related to disorderly youth are not recorded in detail either by police or by private security. Most incidents are considered too minor to justify detailed reports. Unfortunately, it is from those details that the most effective responses will emerge. Consequently, you should first determine to what extent incidents are being recorded, and if they are not, create a reporting system that provides enough detail, at least temporarily, to give you a better understanding of the problem.

Even a simple form that allows officers to check boxes rather than write extensive narratives is preferable to reporting systems that capture no detail at all.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of disorderly youth, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

A special note of caution is in order regarding official juvenile records: You should be sure to review applicable legal and policy guidelines or consult legal counsel before examining or sharing information drawn from official juvenile records. In most jurisdictions, access to and use of juvenile records are restricted.


  • Who is complaining about the youth? What are the specific complaints?
  • What are the complainants' interests (commercial, peace and quiet, freedom from intimidation)?
  • Do complaints seem legitimate or exaggerated? (Some complainants exaggerate their reports of the problem to get a quicker or harsher police response than is justified.)
  • Is there objective evidence to confirm the complaints (e.g., customers' staying away from businesses, tenants' moving out of apartments, reports of crimes committed by the youth)?
  • Are complaints filed with police, private security or other officials? Are complainants reluctant to file official complaints for fear of retaliation?
  • Are there different cultural perspectives on the problem? (Different cultures have different expectations regarding adult supervision of youth.)
  • How do complainants believe the problem could be better handled?
  • What, if anything, have complainants done on their own to try to address the problem?


  • What are the characteristics of the young people causing the problems? How old are they? (There are significant differences between the interests and motivations of 13- to 14-year-olds and those of 20- to 21-year-olds, even though all are generally considered youth.) What race or ethnicity are the youth? Are they students? What gender are they? (Girls typically have greater parental restrictions placed on them, and they sometimes prefer to hang out indoors.)4
  • Where do the youth live? Near the place they congregate, or far away from it? How do they get there?
  • Do some of the young people have serious personal problems (e.g., are they runaways, substance abusers, victims of child abuse, prostitutes, homeless)?
  • How do youth perceive the problem?
  • Are youth more or less manageable when they congregate in large groups? (Smaller groups may congregate in multiple locations, making them more difficult to monitor.)
  • Is there any evidence the disorderly behavior is motivated by bias (racial or otherwise)?

Location/Time Problem Occurs

  • Is the location where the youth congregate urban, suburban or rural?
  • Is the location public or private property, or a mixture of both?
  • Where, specifically, do the youth gather? Near entrances to businesses or other buildings? Near stairways, escalators or other high-traffic areas?
  • Are there comfortable places to sit or lean?
  • Why do the youth gather where they do? For purely social reasons, or because they want to be near a particular institution (school, business, tavern, or club)? Why do they say they gather there? Do they feel they have been forced away from other locations, or is there something particular about this location that attracts them?
  • What accounts for the location's attractiveness? The type of food served? Access to restrooms, telephones, video machines? Seating (e.g., tables and chairs provided for regular patrons, benches at bus stops)? Absence of a manager or other authority?
  • What specific factors contribute to disorderliness (e.g., crowding, differing characteristics of youth and complainants, differing uses of public space, absence of authorities)?
  • Are youth congregating where they expect to be visible to the public (and the police), or where they do not expect to be seen?
  • Does the manager of the place where youth congregate tolerate disorderly behavior more so than seems reasonable? (If so, the manager may be involved in illicit conduct for which the youth offer some protection.)5

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. You should take all measures in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to disorderly youth in public places:

  • reduced recorded crime and disorder incidents related to youth in public places;
  • reduced calls for police service related to youth in public places (increased reports to officials or reduced anonymous complaints may be a positive indicator initially if you determine that complainants have previously been reluctant to come forward);
  • reduced numbers of young people congregating at particular locations (if crowd size contributes to the disorderliness);
  • reduced numbers of repeat offenders;
  • improved perceptions of complainants (merchants, shoppers, residents);
  • improved perceptions of elected officials who often receive complaints about juvenile disorder;
  • improved perceptions of youth regarding how fairly they are treated;
  • improved perceptions of parents regarding their children's conduct and police treatment of their children;
  • reduced costs for repairs due to vandalism (if vandalism is part of the problem);
  • evidence of displacement of the problem to other locations (where complaints may be higher or lower); and
  • evidence of reduced youth disorder-related crimes and complaints in areas not directly targeted by your initiative (otherwise known as a diffusion of benefits).

Responses to the Problem of Disorderly Youth in Public Places

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.

The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your communitys problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. Give special consideration to involving youth themselves in seeking solutions to the problems caused by their gathering in public.

See Kenney and Watson (1998) for a description of an effort to get high school students to apply problem-solving skills to address school safety issues.

There are three general approaches to addressing problems of disorderly youth in public places:

  • a pure control approach that views the youth as offenders whose conduct is to be controlled and prohibited coercively;
  • a developmental approach that views the youth more neutrally and adopts methods that, in addition to controlling misconduct, seek to improve the youths general welfare; and
  • an accommodation approach that balances the youths needs and desires against the complainants needs and desires.6

Whenever possible, the developmental and accommodation approaches are recommended because they are more likely to be effective, and they reduce mistrust and hostility between youth and authority figures, including police.7 The general public and the media tend to react negatively to what they perceive as heavy-handed police responses against youth. Parents commonly complain when police resort to arrest as a means of solving youth disorder problems. Some young people may even find the extra efforts of police and others to control their conduct excitinga game of cat and mouse making disorderly behavior even more appealing to them.8

The following are specific responses that police and others have applied to youth disorder in public. These responses variously incorporate pure control, developmental and accommodation approaches. They are organized into three categories: (1) creating alternative legitimate places and activities for youth, (2) modifying public places to discourage disorderly behavior, and (3) establishing and enforcing rules of conduct for youth.

Creating Alternative Legitimate Places and Activities for Youth

  1. Creating new places for youth to congregate, and providing alternative activities.Recognizing that most young people want to hang out with their peers without excessive adult supervision, some police agencies have supported youth clubs, drop-in centers or recreation centers to attract youth who otherwise would be creating public disorder.9 In England, the Lancashire police arranged for youth to help an architect design a public youth shelter.10

    Some shopping malls operate centers where youth can hang out without disturbing shoppers.11 Some police officers have helped to organize alternative constructive activities for young people such as youth clubs or athletic programs, and have given youth an active role in managing these programs.12 , If you go this route, you should take care not to become solely responsible for running a new program. You may be better advised just to call attention to the need for youth programs and activities rather than try to establish and run them yourself.

    Police athletic leagues, first started in New York City in 1914, are now an institutionalized means by which the police help provide alternative positive activities for youth. Part of their stated mission is to prevent juvenile delinquency.

  2. Providing outreach services to youth. In addition to needing recreation, entertainment and a place to socialize, some young people need health, legal and social services that they do not or cannot obtain through normal channels. Some youth who create public disorder are supported by stable families, but others are not. Some are runaways, substance abusers, victims of child neglect and abuse, homeless, or prostitutes. Police can support initiatives to provide outreach services to youth.13 These services can be an effective bridge between youth and formal authorities like the police.14 Outreach workers can help identify particular needs of youth groups and individuals, and broker services and assistance for them. They can also remind youth to behave appropriately in public, without threatening them with enforcement.
  3. Employing youth at businesses negatively affected by disorderly behavior. Some merchants have succeeded in reducing the incidence of youth disorder by employing qualified youth to work in establishments near where young people congregate. The employed youth have a greater sense of responsibility for and stake in maintaining order.15
  4. Ensuring youth have adequate transportation to and from events. Event planners and parents do not always provide adequate transportation for youth, leaving large numbers of young people unsupervised on the streets before and after events. Special event and youth program managers should be encouraged to factor transportation costs into their financial calculations. Police in Newport News, Va., addressed a problem of disorderly youths leaving a roller skating rink late at night by ensuring adequate transportation for them at closing time.16

Modifying Public Places To Discourage Disorderly Behavior

  1. Encouraging youth to gather where they will not disturb others. If youth are congregating near a particular institution (school, business, tavern, or club), try to get that institution to work with you to persuade the youth to move where their behavior will not disturb others. If rival groups are gathering at the same location, try to change the times when the groups gather, or try to get one group to congregate elsewhere. Some officers have had bus stops relocated to prevent conflicts between rival youth groups. A Joliet, Ill., police officer negotiated with a stadium owner to let youth congregate in a section of the stadium parking lot.17 Many police officers negotiate informal agreements with youth, for example, exchanging a degree of tolerance of rowdy behavior for keeping noise and litter under control.18
  2. Avoiding locating businesses that attract youth where others will be intimidated by them.This response applies mainly to shopping malls where mall managers can determine the specific location of businesses. Fast-food restaurants and video arcades commonly attract large youth groups. If they are located near mall entrances and exits or along heavily traveled pathways, shoppers are forced to walk past the youth, and the potential for intimidation rises.19 Without training, mall managers may not have a good understanding of how design features and business locations can affect crime and disorder levels.20
  3. Reducing the comfort level, convenience or attraction of popular youth gathering places.Eliminating comfortable places to sit or lean discourages youth from congregating in particular places (although it might prove a similar inconvenience for others).21 If the location is outdoors, consider modifying structures (bus shelters, shop doorways, playground equipment, park shelters, pedestrian tunnels, covered alleys, bridges) so that they do not offer much protection from the weather.22

    The type of background music can also influence where youth choose to congregate: playing classical music, for example, can discourage some young people from hanging out within earshot of it.23 Intensifying the lighting where youth congregate can also make the location less attractive to them.24

    Police in Edmonton, Alberta, worked with the community and other city agencies to landscape a park that had become a hangout for older youth who intimidated other park users and vandalized park property. The new park configuration made it more visible from adjacent roads. Problems declined without need for extra police enforcement.25 Police in Peel, Ontario, worked with school officials to redesign the school parking lot and hallways, thereby significantly reducing disorder problems caused by students and trespassers.26 Police in Delta, British Columbia, determined that video arcades physical layout influenced youth disorder levels in and around them. They proposed local legislation that regulates video arcade design in ways that improve arcade employees ability to monitor youth conduct.

    The local law also regulates operation hours, occupancy limits, age restrictions, lighting, restroom access, and conduct rules in video arcades. The Delta Police Departments study of the problem and local law has served as a model across Canada (Sheard 1998).[Full Text]

    If youth rely on cars to get to the location, or if cars are the attraction (part of a street cruising problem), consider altering parking regulations to limit youths ability to gather a lot of cars in one place.27
  4. Installing and monitoring closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. CCTV, used extensively in the United Kingdom and generally supported by merchants, shoppers and the general public, has shown some effectiveness in controlling youth disorder in public places.28 , A Scottish study concluded that a CCTV camera positioned in a public town center had the effect of moving disorder incidents out of the cameras view, keeping fights among youth briefer, with fewer combatants. Overall, the CCTV reduced the actual number of disorder incidents, although the study noted that the number of recorded incidents might well rise due to the increased CCTV monitoring.29 Another U.K. study concluded that CCTV was more useful for alerting police to disorder incidents than for deterring disorder in the first place.30

    For a review of research on the effects of CCTV and street lighting on crime prevention, see Painter and Tilley (1999).[Full Text]

An Effective Strategy in New York City

Police Officer Kevin OConnor of New York Citys Midtown North precinct faced an ongoing problem with disorderly youth for most of the 1991-92 school year. Each day at dismissal, students from both Park West High School on W. 50th Street and Graphic Arts High School on W. 49th Street would flood the blocks in the immediate neighborhood. Large and noisy groups would hang out in the area, and fights would all too often erupt.

OConnor realized that the schools procedures contributed to the disorderly youth gatheringsthe schools were dismissing their students at almost exactly the same time, onto the same block of W. 50th Street. With energy running high, the crowding of all those teenagers onto one block produced a chaotic atmosphere that was perfect for escalating petty rivalries into full-scale confrontationsalways noisy, sometimes violent and inevitably a major problem for those in the area.

OConnor got in touch with administrators at both schools. The assistant principal of Park High helped OConnor understand that "the problem is not only school rivalries, but ethnic and neighborhood rivalries. These schools draw students from different neighborhoods." OConnor then met with the principals from both high schools, and persuaded them to stagger dismissal times and direct departing students in opposite directions. Since most of the students from Graphic Arts lived in Brooklyn, they would be dismissed at 2:30 p.m. and diverted to 49th Street, where they could catch the 8th Avenue trains back home. Students from Park High would be dismissed at 2:55 p.m., and since most lived in Washington Heights, they would be directed to the trains at 50th Street and Broadway.

This simple strategymodifying the schools procedureseffectively discouraged the formation of disorderly groups at the end of the school day. OConnor believes that the procedural changes reduced the after-school disorder problem by 70 percent.

Note: This account is excerpted with minor stylistic modifications from New York City Police Department (1993).

Establishing and Enforcing Rules of Conduct for Youth

  1. Enlisting others to exercise informal social control over youth.You should support and reinforce the informal social control that others can exercise over young people. Enlist parents, school officials, employers, coaches, and others to establish and enforce standards of youth conduct in public. Research has established that people who are responsible for managing placeswhether malls, businesses, apartment buildings, commercial districts, or parkscan collectively act to enforce rules and standards of orderly behavior that result in reduced disorder.31

    Police can notify people, in person or in writing, about individuals causing problems. Officers in Manchester,
    England, distributed a leaflet to parents explaining the problems, police responses, parental responsibilities, and potential consequences for failing to control their childrens behavior (including sanctions against their public housing privileges).32 Police in Lancashire, England, videotaped disorderly youth and showed the videotapes to their parents.33 Many jurisdictions have parental responsibility laws, with sanctions against parents who fail to exercise reasonable control of their childrens conduct; however, these laws are rarely enforced.
  2. Establishing clear rules of conduct, and educating youth about them. Patrol officers usually develop their own personal standards for youth conduct, which they pass on to the youth by word or action. Unfortunately, the same youth are subject to many different patrol officers standards. When the standards change depending on which officer is on duty, youth perceive the standards to be arbitrary and, therefore, unfair.34 You should try to get officers to agree on a reasonably consistent set of standards for dealing with congregating youth.

    Shopping mall managers should establish a clear set of rules of conduct and post them where youth congregate. Some merchants impose minimum-purchase requirements or restrict restroom use to paying customers to discourage youth from gathering outside their businesses. Some malls have resorted to requiring teenagers to have parental escorts during certain hours.

    Some Dutch police visit schools at the beginning of the school year to inform students about rules of conduct that will apply in places where students are known to hang out.35 Lancashire police instituted a juvenile nuisance register to log police officers warnings to young people and justify harsher responses if the youth ignore the warnings.36
  3. Mediating conflicts between youth and complainants.As noted earlier, young people often fail to appreciate their behaviors effect on others. Bringing youth and complainants together can result in a healthy exchange of perspectives. In some instances, complainants have been known to become more sympathetic to the lack of opportunities for youth, and willing to help provide them.37 If there is racial or ethnic bias to the complaints, you might consider providing professional cultural awareness training for complainants and youth.38
  4. Denying youths anonymity.In some instances, simply getting to know the names and faces of young people, thereby removing their sense of anonymity, is sufficient to discourage them from causing trouble.39 Without being antagonistic or accusatory, police and private security officers can make special efforts to let youth know they can readily be identified. In some instances, police and private security have resorted to photographing and identifying youth who create disturbances, either as part of an official trespass warning system, or merely to put the troublemakers on notice that their conduct is being monitored.40 If you adopt this response, you should make certain you adhere to applicable laws and policies regarding photographing juveniles.
  5. Deploying police paraprofessionals to patrol public places where youth congregate.Police in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom hire and assign uniformed paraprofessionalsvariously called wardens, special constables or patrollersto patrol public places where youth often congregate.41 Evaluations of these paraprofessionals effectiveness have shown some reductions in citizen fear and complaints about youth disorder in the areas patrolled,42 but at least in the United Kingdom, the paraprofessionals were not well received by either the police or the general public.43 Their effectiveness appears to depend on their being reasonable and approachable rather than trying to be intimidating.44 Some police agencies have supported citizen patrols to help monitor young peoples behavior in public.45

    Private security officers constitute one type of paraprofessional, and while they tend to be dressed and equipped like police officers, some youth are more likely to challenge their authority and try to provoke confrontations if they resemble police.46 Police might provide training to private security in handling youth in public places.47
  6. Enforcing truancy laws.Truancy enforcement can be effective in reducing youth disorder occurring during school hours.48 Police can educate complainants about truancy laws so that they know when and how to notify authorities about truancy violations. However, truancy enforcement, while an increasingly popular idea, is not necessarily an appropriate response to your particular disorderly youth problem.For it to be effective, school officials and other juvenile authorities must cooperate with police and develop practices and programs that prevent truancy, while addressing underlying problems that might cause habitual truancy. Police agencies should establish specific policies and procedures for truancy enforcement rather than rely on occasional and highly discretionary enforcement.

    There is a considerable body of literature on truancy and the police role in addressing it that you may want to consult if you use truancy enforcement as a response to disorderly youth problems.

  7. Enforcing curfew laws.Curfew laws are intended to keep youth off the streets at night, so that they are more likely to be under adult supervision at home. Some jurisdictions, such as Orlando, Fla., have imposed curfews on juveniles only in the downtown entertainment districts, where problems have been concentrated. Whether curfew enforcement is effective at reducing youth disorder depends on particular local conditions.49 In many jurisdictions, youth are more likely to cause trouble after school than at night.50

    Proposals to enact or enforce juvenile curfews almost always inspire community debate.The general public and, presumably, young people themselves are more likely to accept curfews if alternative legitimate activities and places for youth to gather exist.51 If police are expected to enforce juvenile curfews, there must be convenient holding facilities that allow officers to return to the streets quickly; otherwise, they are not likely to take juveniles into custody. As with truancy enforcement, police agencies that opt to enforce curfew laws should establish specific policies and procedures relating to enforcement.

    See OBrien and Joseph (1999) for a discussion of the pros and cons of juvenile curfews.

  8. Banning troublemakers from private property.If youth are congregating and creating disturbances on privately owned property, such as business parking lots or apartment complexes, you might consider securing authority from the property owners for the police to enforce trespass laws.

    Trespass enforcement was one of a combination of responses St. Petersburg, Fla., police used to reduce problems caused by students gathering in a convenience store parking lot. Stricter truancy enforcement by school officials and the turning off of video games in the convenience store during school hours were the other key responses.52 Newport News, Va., police also used trespass enforcement to deal with disorderly youth at a shopping plaza, and encouraged judges to order convicted offenders to stay away from the plaza as a condition of a suspended sentence.53

    Shopping malls are generally considered private rather than public places, giving mall owners and managers greater legal authority to deny access to the premises, but in many jurisdictions, they are considered quasi-public. You should consult with legal counsel in deciding how the police can properly support this response.Police agencies should establish specific policy guidelines that cover police officers authority and responsibilities in helping mall authorities enforce the bans. You must take special care not to support arbitrary or discriminatory banning practices. Identities of banned youth should be provided to merchants and security staff.

    American courts recognize the quasi-public nature of shopping malls and have extended certain constitutional guarantees, especially those relating to free speech and assembly, to those visiting malls. The extent to which a mall is considered public or private depends in part on whether there are any public rightsof-way on the mall grounds. Malls with public transportation links, government offices or police substations on the premises are more likely to be deemed quasi-public, thereby limiting mall owners right to exclude certain people.

Responses With Limited Effectiveness

  1. Increasing patrol by uniformed police officers. Merely increasing uniformed police officers presence around locations where youth gather is expensive, inefficient and usually ineffective.
  2. Strictly enforcing laws against youth.Many police officers are hesitant to rely excessively on arrest as a means of controlling troublesome youth behavior. Where juvenile justice system sanctions are lenient, as they often are for minor offenses, officers prefer not to expose youth to that leniency, hoping that they will believe the sanctions to be serious.54 It may be necessary for you to strictly enforce some laws, at least for a while, just to convince youth that the option is available. Done properly, some enforcement can open lines of communication between you and young people who might question your authority to act.55

Additional Resources

Home Office. (2002). A guide to anti-social behaviour orders and acceptable behaviour contracts. London.

Turner, S. (2002). Shopping for a solution-Full report: An evaluation of Western Sydney Shopping Center Youth Projects. NSW: Youth Action Policy Association.

Urban Design Advisory Service. (1999). Urban design guidelines with young people in mind.

White, R. (1998). Public spaces for young people: A guide to creative projects and positive strategies.

Youth Action and Policy Association. Creating the space for dialogue: A guide to developing a local youth shopping centre protocol.

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to disorderly youth in public places, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they should work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Creating Alternative Legitimate Places and Activities for Youth
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
1 Creating new places for youth to congregate, and providing alternative activities Removes excuses for youth to hang out and be disorderly in public, for lack of anything else to do there are few or no alternative legitimate activities for youth in the area Police can support creating alternative places and activities, but should be careful not to become solely responsible for running those places and activities
2 Providing outreach services to youth Identifies more serious problems of some youth, such as substance abuse, child abuse, mental illness, etc. the young people causing the problems are suspected to have more serious individual problems and needs Requires resource commitments from professionals outside of the police department
3 Employing youth at businesses negatively affected by disorderly behavior Promotes a greater sense of responsibility among youth for maintaining order in those places

there is viable employment in the area, and young people have skills that match employers' needs

Business owners must be willing to employ youth
4 Ensuring youth have adequate transportation to and from events Removes excuses for youth to be on the street before and after events existing transportation is inadequate May require additional expenditures from public transportation companies
Modifying Public Places to Discourage Disorderly Behavior
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
5 Encouraging youth to gather where they will not disturb others Separates youth from likely complainants there are viable alternative places for youth to gather in the area May require negotiation because police may not be able to force youth to move; may require place managers' or property owners' cooperation to allow youth to congregate
6 Avoiding locating businesses that attract youth where others will be intimidated by them Separates youth from likely complainants there are alternative sites for the youth- oriented businesses Requires the cooperation of people such as mall managers; youth oriented businesses may object to being moved away from the main flow of consumers
7 Reducing the comfort level, convenience or attraction of popular youth gathering places Discourages youth from congregating in a particular place the changes are not unduly burdensome on legitimate users of the place May require additional expenditures to redesign the place; may discourage legitimate uses of the place; may displace youth to a more problematic location
8 Installing and monitoring closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras Increases the ability of police or private security to detect disorder and respond quickly; increases the likelihood that offenders can be identified later; discourages youth from engaging in disorderly behavior in view of the camera police or private security has the resources to monitor CCTV Cameras must be protected from vandalism; monitoring is labor intensive; evaluations of CCTV show mixed effectiveness; some communities object to public CCTV on privacy grounds
Establishing and Enforcing Rules of Conduct for Youth
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
9 Enlisting others to exercise informal social control over youth Provides help from others in controlling youth youth value their relationship with those seeking to exercise informal social control over them Police must be careful not to support draconian or abusive forms of punishment
10 Establishing clear rules of conduct, and educating youth about them Clarifies what conduct is and is not acceptable; removes excuses for unacceptable behavior rules are simple, fair and clearly conveyed Rules must not violate youths' constitutional rights; if youth perceive rules to be unfair, it may exacerbate tension and mistrust between youth and authorities, including police
11 Mediating conflicts between youth and complainants Helps youth and complainants better understand one another's concerns and perspectives youth and complainants are willing to listen to one another, and conflicts are relatively minor Requires mediation skills; may not be a valid response if offenses are serious
12 Denying youths' anonymity Makes youth realize they can be held accountable for their actions the same individuals return to the problem location, and the same police or security officers handle the problem Compulsory identification and photographing of offenders must comply with applicable laws and policies
13 Deploying police paraprofessionals to patrol public places where youth congregate Increases the level of surveillance of public places; imposes supervision on youth that is not as threatening to them as police supervision might be paraprofessionals are authorized by local law to patrol in public and are properly trained to handle youth disorder Neither the police nor the general public may support paraprofessionals
14 Enforcing truancy laws Removes excuses for youth to be on the street during school hours there is a place where police can bring truants and quickly return to service, there are meaningful truancy interventions by schools, and likely complainants are educated about truancy laws and how to recognize and report truants Requires support and resource commitments from school officials and other juvenile authorities
15 Enforcing curfew laws Removes excuses for youth to be on the street at night, thereby reducing opportunities for them to offend and be victimized the general public supports curfew enforcement, and youth disorder occurs at night Potential legal challenges to curfew laws and enforcement thereof; without public support, the police will appear heavy-handed and youth will be perceived as victims
16 Banning troublemakers from private property Removes the worst offenders from places where they disturb others private security and police maintain accurate records of banned people's identities and the time periods for which those people are banned Potential legal challenges to banning that may depend on whether the property is deemed private or quasi-public
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
17 Increasing patrol by uniformed police officers Labor-intensive and only temporarily effective
18 Strictly enforcing laws against youth Labor-intensive as a long-term strategy; police risk losing public support by appearing heavy-handed


[1] Skogan (1987); Beck and Willis (1995).

[2] Beck and Willis (1995).

[3] National Crime Prevention (1999); Lancashire Constabulary (1999)[Full Text]; Parker (1993).

[4] National Crime Prevention (1999).

[5] Meehan (1992).

[6] National Crime Prevention (1999).

[7] White (1998).[Full Text]

[8] White and Sutton (1995).

[9] Bland and Read (2000)[Full Text]; Lancashire Constabulary (1999)[Full Text]; Ball (1994).

[10] Lancashire Constabulary (1999)[Full Text].

[11] Poole (1991).

[12] New York City Police Department (1993); Lancashire Constabulary (1999)[Full Text]; Cleveland Police (1998)[Full Text].

[13] Lancashire Constabulary (1999)[Full Text].

[14] Phillips and Cochrane (1988)[Full Text]; Bland and Read (2000)[Full Text]; White (1998)[Full Text]; Poole (1991).

[15] Phillips and Cochrane (1988)[Full Text]; White (1998)[Full Text]; Ball (1994).

[16] Eck and Spelman (1987).

[17] Parker (1993).

[18] Meehan(1992).

[19] Poole (1991).

[20] Poole (1991).

[21] Poole (1991).

[22] Lancashire Constabulary (1999)[Full Text].

[23] Chambers (1991) [Portable Document FormatFull Text ].

[24] New York City Police Department (1993).

[25] Cooper and Kracher (1996)[Full Text].

[26] McKay (1997).[Full Text]

[27] New York City Police Department (1993).

[28] Brown (1997)[Full Text].

[29] Ditton and Short (1998) ; see also Ditton and Short (1999) [Portable Document FileFull Text ].

[30] Oc and Tiesdell (1997).

[31] Green Mazerolle, Kadleck and Roehl (1998).

[32] Bland and Read (2000)[Full Text]; Lancashire Police Constabulary (1999)[Full Text]; Cleveland Police (1998)[Full Text].

[33] Bland and Read (2000)[Full Text]; Lancashire Police Constabulary (1999)[Full Text].

[34] Meehan (1992).

[35] Phillips and Cochrane (1988)[Full Text]; see also Parker (1993).

[36] Bland and Read (2000)[Full Text]; Lancashire Police Constabulary (1999)[Full Text].

[37] Phillips and Cochrane (1988)[Full Text]; Bland and Read (2000)[Full Text]; Cleveland Police (1998)[Full Text]; Ball (1994).

[38] New York City Police Department (1993).

[39] Poole (1991).

[40] Eck and Spelman (1987).

[41] Hofstra and Shapland (1997); Southgate, Bucke and Byron (1995)[Full Text]; Lancashire Police Constabulary (1999)[Full Text]; Jacobson and Saville (1999)[Full Text].

[42] Hofstra and Shapland (1997); Southgate, Bucke and Byron (1995)[Full Text]; Jacobson and Saville (1999)[Full Text].

[43] Southgate, Bucke and Byron (1995)[Full Text].

[44] Hofstra and Shapland (1997).

[45] Bland and Read (2000)[Full Text].

[46] Poole (1991).

[47] Phillips and Cochrane (1988).[Full Text]

[48] Bland and Read (2000)[Full Text]; Lancashire Police Constabulary (1999)[Full Text]; Poole (1991); Books (1995)[Full Text].

[49] White (1998)[Full Text]; Bland and Read (2000)[Full Text].

[50] White (1998).[Full Text]

[51] White (1998).[Full Text]

[52] Books (1995) [Full Text].

[53] Eck and Spelman (1987).

[54] Meehan (1992).

[55] New York City Police Department (1993).


Ball, M. (1994). Public Nuisance Offences: An Integrated Approach. London: Home Office Police Research Group.

Beck, A., and A. Willis (1995). Crime and Security: Managing the Risk to Safe Shopping. Leicester, U.K.: Perpetuity Press.

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Brown, B. (1997). "CCTV in Three Town Centers in England." In R. Clarke (ed.), Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies (2nd ed.). Guilderland, N.Y.: Harrow and Heston.[Full Text]

Chambers, T. (1991). "Eliminating Problems Through Environmental Design." Problem-Solving Quarterly 5(1):9. [Full Text]

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Ditton, J., and E. Short (1999). "Yes, It Works, No, It Doesn't: Comparing the Effects of Open-Street CCTV in Two Adjacent Scottish Town Centres." In K. Painter and N. Tilley (eds.), Surveillance of Public Space: CCTV, Street Lighting and Crime Prevention. Crime Prevention Studies, Vol. 10. Monsey, N.Y.: Criminal Justice Press.[Full Text]

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Green Mazerolle, L., C. Kadleck and J. Roehl (1998). "Controlling Drug and Disorder Problems: The Role of Place Managers." Criminology 36(2):371-403.

Hofstra, B., and J. Shapland (1997). "Who Is in Control?" Policing and Society 6(4):265-281.

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Related POP Projects


The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.

Acacia Park Police Service Center, Colorado Springs Police Department (CO, US), 2003

Antisocial Behaviour at Harry Road Park, South Yorkshire Police (South Yorkshire, UK), 2009

Antisocial Behaviour System (ABS) 'Traffic Light System,' Wiltshire Police (Devizes, UK), 2008

Anti-Social Behaviour on Cleveland Estate, Metropolitan Police Service (London, UK), 2007

Clare Street Anti-Social Behaviour Initiative, Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 2009

Community Policing: Success in Lowell, Lowell Police Department (MA, US), 1998

Haggard Park Project, Plano Police Department (TX, US), 2006

Hangin' With 5'0 Project, Miramar Police Department (FL, US), 2003

MOPPIN Up Dodge [Goldstein Award Finalist/Tilley Award Winner], Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 2008

Newham Focus Building, Metropolitan Police Service (London, UK), 2011

Operation Brilliant, South Yorkshire Police (South Yorkshire, UK), 2009

Orpington College, Metropolitan Police Service (London, UK), 2011

Park Life Merton, Safer Merton (Merton, UK), 2008

Park View 4 U, Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 2009

Project Moonshine (Valley Park PRIME Project), Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 2004

Raby Rebels Youth Project, Cleveland Police Department (Middlesbrough, UK), 1998

Reclaiming the Corner of Chaos [Goldstein Award Finalist], Dayton Police Department (OH, US), 2010

Sharrow Kickz, South Yorkshire Police (South Yorkshire, UK), 2010

Skate Park Project, Healdsburg Police Department (CA, US), 2003

Streetwise Soccer, Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 2005

Surrey Street Standards [Goldstein Award Finalist], Surrey Police (UK), 2003

Tackling Youth Crime & Anti-Social Behaviour on London's Buses [Goldstein Award Finalist], Transport for London (London, UK), 2008

The Burnley Youth Bus, Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 2008

The Elite Arcade: Taming a Crime Generator [Goldstein Award Finalist], Delta Police Department (BC, CA), 1997

The M.A.N.E.R.S. Project, Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 1999

The Urban High School Disorder Reduction Project [Goldstein Award Finalist], Dayton Police Department (OH, US), 2011

Tonna Anti-social Behaviour, South Wales Police (South Wales, UK), 2008