WARREN - Despite being burglarized, harassed, threatened and having a gun pulled on him, one local businessman said he is determined to stand his ground and keep his downtown business open.
Stephen Simpson, who owns Advance Computer & Data Communications, said the problems at his business started not long after he opened his shop about a year ago. Since then, he has called police to his business for assistance close to a dozen times.
''You know when you locate downtown, there's a risk,'' Simpson said. "But this is crazy. I never expected it to be this bad. I really wasn't prepared for there to be this many problems. But I don't want to be anywhere else."
Stephen Simpson, owner of Advanced Computer & Data Communications in downtown Warren, explains how this rock was thrown through the window of a door at his East Market Street business to allow burglars to gain access to the contents inside.
Virginia Shank / Tribune Chronicle
Simpson said he opened his business in Warren because he wanted "to be part of revitalizing downtown," to be an asset and contribute. He said he set up shop at 540 E. Market St. because that area, as opposed to spots closer to Courthouse Square, was more affordable for him.
"I don't want to give this place up," he said. "It hasn't been easy, but I've invested too much work and time and resources to give it all up now."
Simpson, who lives in Warren, first reported a problem in connection with his business to city police on March 5. But the one that stands out to him occurred during a series of six break-ins that started late on the night of May 18 and continuing into early the next morning.
According to police reports, Simpson said that thieves took five cameras, a cash drawer with about $100, seven laptops and one desktop computer. A rock was used to smash out the front store window, according to the reports.
Simpson said he had surveillance cameras that recorded the illegal entries. The tape was damaged when he tried to copy segments of it.
He said the video showed several men breaking in and a police car parked across the street. He said the recording showed the burglars entering the business and leaving with equipment at various times overnight.
Simpson said he had no alarm system in place, but that has now changed.
"The thing is these guys came in and out of my business several times overnight, taking equipment out," Simpson said. "You could see one guy coming in, it was broad daylight, and taking a cash register out with him.
One suspect, whom Simpson said police were able to identify on the surveillance tape, was arrested and charged with breaking and entering.
Another burglary occurred between 6 p.m. Aug. 18 and 11:45 a.m. Aug. 19. Simpson's employee reported to police that a cement block was thrown through the door, breaking the double-pane glass and hitting a copy machine. Six laptops and two iPads were taken from a shelf. Copper was stolen from his air conditioner, he said.
Simpson said his equipment has not been recovered. He has also reported loiterers that he said were hanging around outside the front doors of his business at various times. He said he has been harassed and has received threats on the windshield of his vehicle.
Last month, Simpson told police that a man pointed a gun at him from across the street.
"Sometimes I park my truck across the street, and he complained that he can't see traffic when he pulls out from the alley," Simpson said. "But it's a marked, legal space. I told him to take it up with the city, that I have the same problem with the alley next to my place. So, next thing I know, there he was standing there with a gun in his hand pointing it at me. He pointed it at me and then at my truck."
Simpson said police told him they couldn't do anything about it because when they arrived, the man was not holding a gun and that he has a license to carry a concealed weapon.
"They said they couldn't do anything based on the (surveillance tape) because you couldn't see the gun clearly," he said.
Attempts to reach police Chief Timothy Bowers for comment were unsuccessful.
Last month, Simpson was among a group of some 100 residents and business people to gather at the nearby Sunrise Banquet Hall to discuss public safety, police and economic development. He told the group more police need to be walking a beat in the downtown area as the city had when he was younger.
Mayor Doug Franklin said, "In 2008, the city had 81 officers on the force. Today we have about 60.''
Franklin also told the residents that the city is working on clearing up loiterers and panhandlers.
"It is a problem that we have to deal with," he said. "Some of these people need help."
The meeting was sparked by the Nov. 11 Sunday morning shootout death of 32-year-old Marco Dukes.
Bowers said tips from residents made it possible for the police to capture two of the people involved with the deadly shooting.
"We can't do it by ourselves," Bowers told the residents. ''We would not have captured two of the shooters so quickly if it wasn't for city residents coming forward to tell officers what they saw."
Simpson said of the shootout, "It got people's attention. There's no doubt. Something needs to be done. We have a lot of good things, positive things about this city. But we need to do something about the bad."