Police are starting to see progress in the crackdown on convenience stores.
Calls to police are down, code violations have been resolved and drug dealers may be moving to new locations.
One store owner complained to police that he was losing business because the crowds of drug sellers and buyers were no longer outside his shop.
The owner complained that “because of our activity, business was down,” said police Chief Brian Kilcullen.
And fewer people are calling police to report problems in and around the stores.
The question is whether the reduction in calls indicates a reduction in problems.
In the past two years, police responded to 3,400 calls involving just 10 stores. Police were often stopping at the same store every other day.
City officials said that indicated serious problems with store management — such as selling single cigarettes (“loosies”), buying stolen goods from desperate drug addicts, or letting drug dealers hide inside when police drove by.
They announced a crackdown in April.
But some clerks said it wasn’t their fault drug dealers and addicts loitered outside their stores. They said they called police repeatedly for help dispersing crowds and breaking up fights.
They said they have now simply stopped calling because they fear being shut down by police.
But Kilcullen said that was not true.
Most calls came from witnesses and neighbors, he said.
“I don’t think many of these businesses were calling us,” he added.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said not calling police probably wouldn’t help the stores.
“If there’s a situation that needs police involvement, you’re going to find the calls get made anyway. A neighbor, somebody, will call,” he said.
So with the calls dropping, city officials are seeing success.
“We are making progress,” McCarthy said.
The stores are also cleaning up — literally. They’re tearing down the many advertisements that used to cover their windows.
It’s a code violation to cover more than 20 percent of the windows, said Building Inspector Carl Shilling.
“It’s just a safety issue. It’s a visibility thing,” he said, adding that police need to be able to see inside and customers also want to be able to see into the building before entering. "We’ve gotten all the store owners to comply,” Shilling said.
Every code violation has been addressed, he added.