The recent arrests of seven people for various sex crimes at the Chatham Mall have prompted mall security to install a surveillance camera outside an illicitly used men's bathroom.
Undercover county police officers began patrols of the restroom area approximately three weeks ago after getting reports that a group of homosexual men was using the restroom as a meeting place for sexual liaisons.
Those arrested include residents of Columbia, Baltimore, Burtonsville and Marriottsville, although police and mall officials say that word is apparently getting out that the bathroom is off-limits.
"We've seen a significant drop in activity over there since word of thearrests has hit the street," said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a county police spokesman. But police say the undercover officers will continue monitoring the restroom for at least another week.
Charges in the case include indecent exposure, lewd sexual solicitation and committing a fourth-degree sexual offense, allegedly after undercover officerswere asked to engage in sex acts, Gardner said.
The four-man security force at the Ellicott City mall will be conducting extra patrolsof the restrooms, which are in a hallway near the management office,mall manager Joan Post said.
County police say uniformed officerswill continue their own daily foot patrols, which began in April after an Ellicott City woman complained that her 6-year-old son had observed homosexual activity in the men's room.
"We've been trying various things to solve the problem," Post said. "Usually, these kind ofthings happen at the bigger shopping centers. I have no idea why this particular mall has been attracting this kind of behavior."
In 1987, county police organized an undercover detail to investigate similar reports at the Mall in Columbia. That investigation led to 10 arrests. State police have also conducted periodic undercover vice operations at a rest stop along Interstate 95, with approximately 15 arrests made since April 1988.
The surveillance camera at the Chatham Mall will be installed in the hallway outside the men's room, where police say contact was made before entering the bathroom. The camera's transmissions will be monitored by a mall security guard.
Police say it is not uncommon for "match-making" networks, established through community and computer bulletin boards, to label certain locations -- such as bathrooms or highway rest areas -- as meeting points.
It is not illegal for such bulletin boards to identify locations, and police say they are not attempting to determine how the Chatham Mall bathroom got its reputation.
Two sex-related incidents involving children have been reported at the mall in the last 14 months, police said. In May, a fifth-grader playing a video game at the mall arcade was grabbed by a man. The man ran from the area without further incident.
In November 1989, a 15-year-old Carroll County boy told police that he was indecently touched by a man who had offered him a car ride from the arcade. The teen-ager managed to run from the parked carand was not injured, police said.
No arrests were made in either incident, police said.
For some, like the mother whose child witnessed the illicit sex activity in the bathroom, the mall has become taboo.
"I think it's too bad that this goes on there and it seems tobe taken very lightly," said the woman, who asked not to be identified to protect her son. At least for now, she will not take him to themall, she said.
"I was extremely pleased with the way Howard County police handled the situation, but I hope the mall keeps up their end of the bargain," she said. "The police can't be there forever."
The mall will be one of the sites of the 81st anniversary celebration of the Boy Scouts of America on Feb. 16. The event will go on as planned, said John Kline, the senior district executive for the Baltimore-area Boy Scouts.
Kline said that he was aware of the problems involving the sex activity in the bathroom but that he has "full confidence in the police's ability to handle it. We're very comfortable with having our show there."
Those arrested were:
Robert Diehl, 25, of the 1200 block of Columbia Road in Columbia, charged Dec. 20 with solicitation and a fourth-degree sexual offense.
Julius Wirth,28, of Baltimore, charged Dec. 21 with solicitation.
Jack Maguire, 43, of Harper's Farm Road in Columbia, charged Jan. 2 with solicitation and indecent exposure.
Daniel Neely, 28, of Burtonsville, charged Jan. 2 with indecent exposure.
Richard Hearn Jr., 33, of Blue February Way in Columbia, charged Thursday with indecent exposure.
Kevin Boykins, 28, of Baltimore, charged Thursday with indecent exposure and solicitation.
William Paul Dorsey, 47, of the 1300 block Henryton Road in Marriottsville, charged Friday with indecent exposure.