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21/01/2016

Wynnsong 16 implementing age, dress policies but city wants more

While new policies on age and dress could be implemented at the Wynnsong 16 multiplex theater in west Mobile, some city officials are hopeful more changes are still in the works.

And they also want Carmike, Inc. – the parent company that operates hundreds of theater complexes nationwide, including the Wynnsong – to communicate better with the city's Police Department and the Mobile City Council.

The requests come about one month after a melee broke out in the theater's parking lot on Christmas night that involved hundreds of youths and resulted in four teenagers suffering non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.

Police Chief James Barber, on Tuesday, acknowledged he had spoken with Carmike officials about heightened security at the cinema but that follow-up interviews were more difficult with top corporate officers.

"We are still waiting on that follow-up meeting," Barber said, anticipating that discussions between police and Carmike could take place within the next "two to three weeks."

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"We are dealing with a large corporation with 300 cinemas," he added.

Wynnsong reportedly is imposing a curfew beginning on Feb. 1 restricting youths from visiting the complex after 8 p.m. unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian at least 21 years old. On Wednesday, there was no sign on the cinema's front door detailing the age policy.

The only public notices on display detailed dress and conduct codes: Sagging pants and lewd attire is prohibited as is profanity, loitering, and loud music. Another posted sign notifies attendees that back packs, packages or bags are subject to inspection and that guns and weapons are not allowed.

Meet with us

Councilwoman Bess Rich, who represents the west Mobile area where Wynnsong is located and is head of the council's Public Safety Committee, said she first learned of the theater's self-imposed regulations from a TV news report.

She said on Wednesday that she hoped Barber had more details about Carmike's new policies. Also, she said she remains hopeful that Carmike officials travel to Mobile and meet with the committee. Carmike's corporate headquarters is located in Columbus, Ga.

"The movie theater experience represents a big part of our residents' entertainment venues, and has a ripple effect on other businesses," Rich said. "I am still hearing that residents are uncomfortable about going to Wynnsong. It is important that anything which changes people's opinion that their security and safety is provided for, will go a long way for them supporting the business in the future."

Carmike has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

"I do hope that the Public Safety Committee ... will have an opportunity to meet with the upper management to discuss security of patrons," Rich said. "Not in a punitive manner, but one where the council is informed and can understand exactly how the security policies and program to be implemented by Carmike helps to encourage confidence and our residents attendance."

Rich's committee met with Barber on Jan. 5 to discuss the Christmas incident in which youths – ranging in ages from 8 years old to 18-year-old adults – congregated in the parking lot for hours. Police have said that as many as 400 juveniles were gathered outside the cinema complex during the evening.

At around 10:14 p.m., four teenagers were shot leading to an eruption of chose that spilled into nearby businesses and streets. No arrests have been made, but police named 17-year-old Johnny Vail as a person of interest. Vail is being held in jail on unrelated gun charges.

Barber told committee members that he felt Wynnsong's surveillance system was inadequate, and that police were negotiating with the corporate offices about including the cinema in the department's "Project Shield" program.

Project Shield is a new partnership between the private sector and police that allows authorities access to live security camera feeds. Since the program's inception this summer, police have been able to gain access to more than 2,000 surveillance and security cameras city-wide. Popular teen gathering spots, such as Bel-Air Mall, are participants.

Businesses unaffected

Meanwhile, business owners close to the Wynnsong property say they haven't been affected by the Christmas night incident.

"I don't feel like it has affected us," said Laura Farley, manager of Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q. "There are usually cops around."

Jerri Reese, owner of Party Central at the nearby Shoppes of Schillinger, said she generally feels that west Mobile is safe and that the Christmas incident was an anomaly.

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