WARREN – Owners of local establishments are setting up meetings with the city and law enforcement to make sure officials know they are doing what they can to stem violence in and around their businesses.
The administration recently announced that its law and police departments are working to establish a task force to address problem locations – bars, stores, homes and anywhere else – around the city before the problems get out of hand.
The task force will be formed by reorganizing people in each department so they will be able to focus on “hot spots” around the city as necessary.
“Members of the task force have met with two business owners,” Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said.
Discussions about a task force began shortly after a Jan. 1 shooting at the Sunset Lounge, 480 E. Market St., that left patron Cory Blackwell, 25, dead.
Officials will use a combination of police observation and reports, citizen and client complaints, and other measures to identify hot spots around the city, Cantalamessa said.
On the day the administration announced the effort, David and Megan Storey-Workley of Woodbine Avenue told council about a Dec. 13 shooting in which Megan thought she could have been killed as she was driving home from work.
Workley said she was caught between two cars – one that just pulled out from the Pit Stop, 1708 Youngstown Road S.E. – in which gunshots were fired between cars. She later claimed there were fights, drug dealing, pan handling and other activities happening in the parking lot.
A robbery was reported outside of the Pit Stop in October. In January 2012, a Cortland resident reported being abducted by three men at gunpoint outside of the gas station, taken to an Atlantic Street address and held against his will.
Abe Jaian, a manager of the Pit Stop, denies his gas station has been a center for illegal activity in the neighborhood. He did, however, meet Wednesday with the administration and said he told them he is willing to make improvements at the station so it is not a problem to the community.
“We try to clean up the lot, and when I see loitering, I politely ask people to move,” he said. “I told the mayor that we can’t do it on our own. We need the help of the police and the sheriff’s department when we call.”
Jaian says the store has worked with the police and, at one point, worked with the previous mayor to make sure the area is safe.
“Six years ago, we met with (former) Mayor Michael O’Brien and were told that we should have an off-duty police officer here at night for two days a week,” Jaian said. “They asked us to do that for a year.”
Jaian said the store increased the number of days to six and has continued having a paid off-duty police officer on his premises ever since.
Police Chief Tim Bowers said the police have always monitored “hot spots” around the city.
“We periodically get people calling us about a particular place or a person,” Bowers said. “We will increase our interest in a location if we get a number of calls for services at one place or when our patrol officers notice a pattern.”
Bowers said off-duty police officers may work in stores and in places that sell alcoholic beverages, but they must first obtain permission from the department.
“We look at it on a case-by-case basis,” Bowers said. “When we receive a request from some places, such as bars, we make sure they have adequate insurance to cover the officer.”
Bowers said insurance information is sent to the city’s law department and it determines if the insurance is sufficient. He did not say how much insurance the company must provide for the officer.
Officers may not work for companies that do business with the city due to the appearance of a conflict of interest. They also may not work for bonding companies.
The Pit Stop is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An off-duty police officer usually is on duty at the gas station from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Saffad Holdings LLC is listed as the owners of the Pit Stop.
“We have 32 cameras constantly monitoring both the interior and exterior of the store,” Jaian said. “We do that for the safety of our customers and our employees.”
Bowers said the department has at times met with the owners where there are concerns to make suggestions on how they may reduce the problems the police are seeing. They also are warned that they need to address the problem or the city will be forced to address it.