City Leaders Are Out To Clean Up The 24-hour Convenience Stores They Say Are All-night Drug Establishments And A Plague On Hartford's Neighborhoods.
June 14, 2007
By DANIEL D'AMBROSIO, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
Hyacinth Yennie is fed up with the noise and the drugs and the loiterers the all-night convenience stores in her Maple Avenue neighborhood attract like moths to a porch light.
“We’ve had it, we’ve had it, we are crying out for help,” said Yennie, who chairs the Maple Avenue NRZ, or neighborhood revitalization zone.
Carl Williams, chair of the South End NRZ said some all-night convenience stores are “well-known drug establishments.”
“Like it or not they are,” Williams said. “If you go late at night you stand the possibility of being confronted with drug pushers or prostitutes.”
Yennie cites the gas station in the middle of Barry Square — Sam’s Food Stores at 611 Maple Ave., owned by K Brothers LLC in Southington — as “the biggest quality of life problem” in the neighborhood, attracting “undesirable people.”
She said a copy of arrests made at the store in 2005 and 2006 she got from Hartford Police is six pages long, single-spaced.
“It is very disturbing,” she said.
The city council agrees, and unanimously passed an ordinance last month, sponsored by councilmen Calixto Torres and James M. Boucher, that requires convenience stores open from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. to implement new security measures designed to shut down the troublemakers. Store owners must also pay a $100 fee annually for a license to be open overnight.
The ordinance, which goes into effect with the new fiscal year on July 1, mandates security cameras; limited cash deposits on-site; brightly lit parking lots; a clear view of the cash register from outside the building; height measures at the door; and a silent alarm hooked into a monitoring company, among other things.
“It’s all over the city, community groups are very adamant about this problem,” said Torres. “We have to do something. We’re not denying anybody the right to operate (overnight); we’re just saying if you’re going to operate these are the requirements to maintain safety and order.”
Boucher said the ordinance is a “common sense” response to the problem.
“The police department showed us significant statistics that show during the hours between 10 in the evening and 5 in the morning there are repeat calls for service to a number of convenience stores,” said Boucher. “Given that research it made sense to protect both the businesses and customers.”
The most controversial measures in the ordinance kick in if problems persist or if neighbors complain a store isn’t complying with the new regulations. The ordinance provides for a fine of $100 a day for stores not in compliance. Stores that try to operate overnight without a license can be shut down.
But the provision that has convenience store owners like K Brothers crying foul is the one that makes them pay for their own police protection. If the police department determines “serious criminal activity” is still a problem at an overnight convenience store despite the measures being taken under the ordinance, it can assign a police detail to the store — at the expense of the owner.
In addition, police can require the owner of a troubled store to have at least two employees on the overnight shift and install a “secured safety enclosure of transparent polycarbonate or other appropriate material.” Torres said the council is considering changing this provision to requiring only one or the other — two employees or an enclosure — and that he expects that change to be made.
Nevertheless, in a letter to Mayor Eddie Perez dated May 11, an attorney for K Brothers says the new authority given to police is ripe for abuse.
“The problem with giving the Chief this authority is that the police themselves are the beneficiaries of the detail but payment for the police officers handling the detail will be charged to the Convenience Store business,” writes attorney Charles DiFazio. “In effect the Chief can generate extra hours of work for his personnel by mandating a police detail at no cost to the department. K Brothers, LLC takes exception to this authority being vested in the Chief because it puts the Chief in the position of having a conflict of interest.”
DiFazio goes further, saying the “broad powers extended to the Chief” could turn punitive.
“In effect, a Chief, if he so desired, could impose such a costly detail for such a long period as effectively to close the business,” DeFazio writes. “This is unconscionable.”
That’s never going to happen, according to Torres, who calls the police details a “last resort if everything else fails.”
“It’s not the intent of the police department to have a continuing presence,” Torres said. “The issue is that we want the business owners to step up to their responsibilities.”
Torres also said store owners would have “avenues to appeal or work through any of these issues.”
If it’s sympathy for the store owners DeFazio is looking for, he’s not going to get it from Yennie.
“We probably need to put them in those stores or have them live next door to those stores and see how they feel about it,” Yennie said. “I need those people to live in our shoes and they will think differently.”