Flash to teen mobs: It's jail 4 u
Philadelphia police yesterday vowed to get tough on thuggish behavior and two city councilmen threatened to sue any online social-media network that may have been used to plan a teen rampage in Center City on Tuesday.
"These kids [need] to understand that this behavior is not going to be tolerated. It's unacceptable," Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel said at a news conference.
"We do question where the parenting is in relation to this."
Sixteen students, ages 14 to 17, from seven city high schools were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, law-enforcement officials said.
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One girl was charged with aggravated assault for kicking a 14-year-old male in the head.
About 150 students, many still in their school uniforms, met at the Gallery, at 9th and Market streets, about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, but were soon kicked out by security guards, Bethel said.
From there, he said, the students rushed west on Market, through the crowds, knocking people down and causing panic.
The band of teens headed to Macy's at 13th and Market, where they vandalized fixtures, causing an estimated $700 in damage, Bethel said.
The teens then headed to 15th Street and JFK Boulevard and started throwing snowballs at one another, bystanders and cars. Most of those who were arrested were picked up there.
"Some of the kids who thought they were going into a community-service program, that has been pulled and they are going to see a judge," Bethel said.
"Here's the deal. We will not tolerate it.
"You will be locked up. You will be going into the court system.
"We are trying to stack that deck to get you expelled from school to get sanctions into the courtroom."
The school district is all too willing to help, says James Golden, the district's chief security officer.
The district plans to share information and intelligence "to eliminate this behavior," Golden said.
The new "no tolerance" policy "issues a strong warning to them about the consequences they will face in planning and engaging in disorderly conduct away from school," he said.
As a result of the teens' antics, police are now deploying more officers to the area, both as a visual presence and as plainclothes officers, said Inspector Edward Kachigian, with Central Detectives.
Late yesterday afternoon, the police presence was evident: 10 officers were stationed outside City Hall on 15th Street between Market and JFK Boulevard; two officers stood at 13th and Market.
Also, a Highway Patrol car was parked in front of Macy's.
The department had already beefed up patrols in the area around the Gallery because of problems with smaller groups of students.
Police averted a flash-mob rampage in December because of a tip it had received about the plans.
The would-be participants instead headed to nearby streets and attacked at least one pedestrian.
The department has had discussions for a couple of months over the teen flash mobs with officials from the school district, Center City District, the District Attorney's Office, SEPTA and the court system, Bethel said.
Golden said there's been "trouble" at the Gallery for some time.
"Since the beginning of the calendar year, it has evolved into a significant challenge for all of us," he said.
But it exploded on Tuesday.
The 16 students arrested were enrolled in the following high schools: Simon Gratz, George Washington, Bartram, Olney West, Lincoln, Ben Franklin, and the disciplinary school Ombudsman Hunting Park.
Seven of those arrested were from Gratz.
Most of the arrested students live in Nicetown or West Philadelphia, police sources said.
And, as most law-enforcement officials suspect, if the students planned to meet through social- networking Web sites, then watch for a possible lawsuit.
Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney both witnessed the chaos from their City Hall offices and called the act "appalling" and "disheartening" in a letter to Mayor Nutter and Council President Anna Verna.
In the letter, Kenney and DiCicco requested "cooperation in pursuing the possibility of a lawsuit against Facebook, MySpace and Twitter" - if it turns out that the teens arranged their mob gathering through one or more of the Web sites.
Yesterday, Kenney called the sight of violent kids running rampant and pummeling one another "a sickening display of brutality."
If social networks can track down child predators or monitor terrorist threats, then they have "to implement a policy to monitor this activity," said Kenney, who said he saw the female assailant kick a male victim in the head while another teen held him down.
(The victim, who was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion, was later treated at a hospital and released.)
"This is urban terrorism, " he said.
Investigators are trying to identify the other mobbers through video surveillance from Macy's and SEPTA, police said.
Staff writer Christine Olley contributed to this report.