It was the shouting that made Probation Officer Moira Toomey stop and turn around.
A pair of teen girls were yelling at their friends to drop a package from the upper level of the South Shore Plaza as scores of shoppers walked around them.
“Hey, don’t drop that,” Toomey said.
“Oh, she’s a cop,” one of the girls said to her friend as they walked away giggling.
For the past five years probation officers have assisted Braintree police and mall security each Saturday night at one of the biggest malls in the region.
While much of their interaction is for minor disturbances like the shouting group of teens, the purpose of having the probation officers at the mall is to provide an extra layer of security and an extra set of eyes who know the region’s court-involved criminals.
“Sometimes it became a lot easier for us because you’ve got people coming from Suffolk County and Braintree police wouldn’t know them,” said Mark McHale, the regional probation supervisor for Suffolk County.
When the program first started, the officers would assist in breaking up fights with younger people just hanging out at the mall, but as that has subsided, they mostly now help question and gather information on shoplifters.
Probation officers said they consider the program a proactive deterrent because they walk the 1.6 million square feet of the mall wearing their badges or Probation Department jackets.
“One of the things gangs do is initiations so sometimes they are ordered to do a shoplift or something,” said Probation Officer Adita Vazquez. “So the probation officers’ presence around may stop it from happening.”