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Residents say they’ll pay to curb crime at gas station

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Residents fed up with crime at a west-side gas station are demanding the owner do something about it — and they’re kicking in their own money to help.

The Marathon station at the northeast corner of Grand River and Wyoming has long been the site of shootings, robberies and drug-dealing, police and residents say.

According to Detroit police data, last year there were 85 police runs to the 12000 block of Grand River, where the station is located, including eight assaults and one shooting. This year, there were two shootings outside the station – one fatal, police and residents said.

“It’s gotten to the point where seniors can’t even go out to enjoy themselves,” said resident Georgia Powell, who has lived in the area for 45 years. “A lot of the problems come from that gas station. It used to be nice around here. Now, it’s a jungle.”

The Detroit Association of Black Organizations, a community group that’s headquartered across the street from the station, originally had planned to protest the business.

But instead, more than a dozen residents crammed into a small room in the group’s office Tuesday and hammered out a deal with the station manager: The association would kick in half of the $5,000 initial cost for the business to join Project Green Light.

Companies that sign up for the Green Light program lease high-definition video cameras, and the live footage is sent to the Detroit Police Real-Time Crime Center, where the video feeds are monitored. Green Light businesses also agree to ensure their properties are well-lit.

The 120 business in the program have seen a 40 percent reduction in violent crime since the initiative was launched Jan. 1, 2016, police Cmdr. Brian Mounsey of the 2nd Precinct told the group Tuesday.

Gas station manager Paul Clay said his boss initially was reluctant to sign up for Green Light because of the cost, which includes monthly fees of $139 for the service, and $169 to lease the camera. Clay spoke on behalf of the station owner, who he said was out of the country.

Clay said the station would agree to join Green Light within 30 days, though he said he felt bullied into it after attendees at the meeting demanded the business sign up.

“I’m not going to sit here and be beat down,” Clay told the group. “Let’s not turn this into a bully situation. Let’s not whip me, because I’m not the dog here.”

DABO’s director, the Rev. Horace Sheffield, replied: “Don’t do me like this. I put my life at risk every time I come here because of what’s happening at this gas station. I’m not trying to castigate you. We’re just trying to find solutions. We’re agreeing to meet you halfway because we believe it’ll make this community safer.”

David Felton, DABO executive assistant, added: “The people in this community just want a decent quality of life. We want to be proactive and do something about this now, rather than wait for more bad things to happen, and then protest after the fact. So we’re going to hold you accountable, but also offer our support.”

Sheffield said his office overlooks the gas station, and during one 30-day span this year, a woman fatally shot a man, another woman was shot and a pregnant woman was assaulted, along with constant drug-dealing.

“We see people being beaten over there, and we put ourselves in danger by going out to stop it,” he said. “Not one time when I stopped someone from being beaten has anyone stepped out from behind the (bulletproof) glass (in the gas station).

“That station is a nuisance, and a lot of it comes from the people loitering outside,” Sheffield said. “When I need to get gas, I send my deacon. I don’t like to shop there — and I carry a pistol.”

Clay insisted station employees have acted against criminals. “There were a bunch of times when we held people in the station so the police can arrest them,” he said. “We don’t allow people to loiter, but they’re like flies: We shoo them away, but they come right back.”

When residents continued complaining station employees weren’t doing enough to stop assaults there, Clay asked: “Let’s say someone with a gun was assaulting someone outside your house; how many of you would go outside to try to stop them?”

Several people responded: “I would.”

Sheffield said if the station agreed to join Green Light, his organization’s radio patrol would keep an eye on the business. Sheffield, whose organization is made up of 130 community groups, also promised to hold a celebration at the station to thank the owner for trying to curb crime; and encourage residents to shop there.

Mounsey said several businesses in his precinct have reported lower crime since they joined Project Green Light.

“We’ve found that business owners are reluctant to sign up at first, because they’re afraid they’d lose customers from having those video cameras. But they’re telling us that they’re getting more of the kinds of customers they want: Not drug dealers, or people looking to commit crimes.”

Mounsey told Clay: “It’s a business owner’s choice (whether to sign up for Green Light). But if you’re going to open a business to serve the community, then you should offer some kind of solution.”

Mounsey said in December 2016 and January 2017, there were three nonfatal shootings at Club Celebrity, a soul food restaurant and bar on Plymouth. “The owner called and wanted Green Light,” Mounsey said. “Within one week, he signed up.

“Since then, there hasn’t been one shooting there,” Mounsey said. “And the Green Light camera captured an individual the owner thought had robbed him before.”

Mounsey said investigators ran the man’s image through facial recognition software and found he had a warrant for his arrest. “We went to his house and found three illegal firearms,” he said. “The ATF now has that case.”

Powell, president of the Westlawn Sub 3 Community Association, who moved to the neighborhood in 1972, told Clay: “We just want to be able to walk down the street safely. Right now, we can’t do that.”

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN