Crime down, but worries persist

Published 10:22 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Downtown business owners shared varying opinions on their perception of safety and police presence in the business district the day after a local business owner was found murdered near his store, but the Suffolk Police Department said it has made no changes to its staffing level downtown and that crime is actually down from last year.

Donald Carter, 82, died early Monday morning after being found suffering from a gunshot wound outside his furniture business, which is located at 186 E. Washington St.

A week ago, a robbery and carjacking at Kelly’s Tavern left many folks shaken up as well.

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“I think it makes me — as someone who’s in downtown every day and a member of this community and small business owner — step back and wonder what’s going on,” said Fred Taylor of law firm Bush and Taylor. “The thing that struck me the most is we have two of these type of incidents within a week of each other. Is that automatically a sign of something systemic? I don’t know.”

Taylor said police presence downtown seems to have fallen off in recent years, noting that bicycle officers and officers on foot used to patrol frequently.

“It has been a very, very long time since I’ve seen that,” Taylor said.

Restaurant owner Harper Bradshaw of Harper’s Table at 122 N. Main St. echoed Taylor’s concerns.

“We have always felt safe at our location, but the recent events are rather unsettling,” he wrote in an email. “It is critical for commerce downtown, especially during the evening hours, that the police are making their presence known. I hope to see more patrols in the area moving forward.”

Maj. Dean Smith of the Suffolk Police Department said the department has not changed its staffing level downtown and still does foot patrols “primarily during the holidays.”

“It’s probably more perception,” he said. “The numbers don’t bear out that there’s a huge influx in crime.”
Smith said year-to-date crime numbers for the downtown area alone are down from last year almost 20 percent for what are known as “Part 1” offenses — murder, aggravated assault, rape, robbery, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson. That’s better than the city as a whole, which is down 10 percent in the same offenses.

“We’ve found no connections” among recent violent crimes, Smith said. “They tend to be crimes of opportunity.”

Smith said certain categories of offenses are down even more — including burglaries, which have dropped 41 percent from last year.

Susan Glover of Simply Susan’s Bakery and Café at 149 N. Main St. said she has been “very concerned” since Carter’s death.

“That could be anybody downtown,” she said. “I think anybody down here would be concerned.”

Glover also said she has heard from several people who have long perceived downtown as a dangerous place, even before the events of the last week.

“The reaction I heard from several people yesterday was, ‘That’s why I don’t come downtown,’” she said. “It hurts our businesses big-time.”

Other business owners, however, said they have not had any major concerns regarding safety in downtown.

“I haven’t seen any particular problems,” said Ed Beardsley of the Plaid Turnip eatery, who noted he usually sees police downtown when he arrives early in the morning.

Beardsley also said he believes new businesses coming soon, like in the 100 block of West Washington Street, will improve the situation.

“With the pick-up of business downtown, that makes people feel more comfortable walking downtown, because there’s more people out,” he said.

Jennifer Groves of Embroidery Etc. and event location The Second Floor said she works a lot of late nights and has “never had any problems.”

Jose Moncada of East Coast Taco Company said he was surprised to hear about what happened to Carter and said he doesn’t see any extra foot traffic that seems to have the wrong intention.

“It kind of hit close to home, though,” he said. “That’s pretty scary.”

“Boo” McGhee of Baron’s Pub and Amici’s Pizza Café said he “hasn’t had any more issues than a normal downtown restaurant.”

He noted some waitresses at Amici’s got robbed a couple of years ago during the Christmas season, but overall he said he feels “pretty safe walking around this town.”

Bristy Ball, who owns several Subway franchises including the one downtown, said she does not know of any issues. She noted the store’s landlord, Little Piggy Properties, “has done a very nice job of making sure our exterior lights are in good repair, and I make sure our doors, interior lights and surveillance systems are kept in good repair and up to date.”

Ball also said many of the businesses and residents in downtown help keep each other safe by looking out for each other.

“Mr. Carter will be missed by many, but I know that he loved the area and the people as well, and I don’t think he would want people in the area living in fear over what happened to him,” she wrote in an email.