LOS ANGELES 8 — LOS ANGELES -- Members of a suburban Van Nuys Girl Scout troop who showed up for a shopping trip at the Northridge Fashion Square were at first denied entry by security officials enforcing a policy designed to prevent gang violence.
Mall officials say the guards were just doing their jobs, but the leader of Troop 823 said Wednesday that the scouts deserved an apology.
"We were stopped at the door and [told] we could not enter because we were a gang," said troop leader Lois Young.
"The guard said a group with more than three people was a gang. I said, 'Do we look like a gang? Look at these girls, we have adults here, they are clean-cut and they have lots of supervision,' " she said.
The 25 scouts, ages 14 to 18, and six adult leaders visited the suburban mall Tuesday night on a shopping trip to buy presents to exchange within the troop. Some wore costumes, Ms. Young said, while others were dressed in an informal troop uniform of white pants with blouses and Girl Scout pins.
After first barring them from the mall, a security guard relented and allowed the scouts to go shopping -- but only after they promised to be quiet, regiment themselves in groups of three and keep at least five feet apart, Ms. Young said.
Even so, she said, security officers trailed them for their entire visit.
"This was not a fun time for the kids. They couldn't talk to each other, they were being followed -- this was not pleasant," said Ms. Young, a clerk for a pest control company.
Girl Scout Elizabeth Martin, 16, said the incident ruined a ceremony the troop had planned for new members. "It ruined our whole initiation," she said. "We're all old enough so that they should know we're not going to run around screaming."
"We didn't even do anything," added Karin Lipman, 14. "We weren't even talking loudly."
Mall security director John Peterson said that the mall guard, Sgt. Gilbert Alvarez, first noticed the group when one of the girls in costume was nearly hit by a car in the parking lot. The guard also reported that the group was acting boisterously.
According to Mr. Peterson, Ms. Young told Sergeant Alvarez that the girls wanted to parade around the mall and sing. The sergeant then asked whether the troop had the mall management's permission for such activity, Mr. Peterson said.
"We don't allow large groups in the center without management's permission," Mr. Peterson said. "Our policy is to break groups up into three or smaller -- it's a method to prevent the place from becoming a teen hangout."
The girls were also told not to sing on grounds that it would be disruptive to the shopkeepers, he said.
"They were loud and boisterous, so he figured it was best not to let them be in the mall in large groups," he said.
Ms. Young said she demanded but was refused a formal apology by the mall management. She said her group might have been loud and enthusiastic outside the mall but would have been better behaved inside.
"They are definitely not obnoxious," she said. "They have never been loud or rowdy in a mall, and I have taken them as far as Vancouver."
Mall officials said the group was treated fairly under the policy aimed at preventing violent incidents that have occurred at other malls in the suburban San Fernando Valley.
"If we allow this group of Girl Scouts in without the process of seeking approval of mall management, how can we go up to [gang members] and tell them to follow the same policy?" Mr. Peterson said.
In the end, Ms. Young said, the troop spent 15 minutes in the mall and then went for ice cream.