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Located at the southeast intersection of Glenstone Avenue and Sunshine Street, Plaza Shopping Center is home to a rich mix of businesses, like traditional barbershop Cooper’s Clippers, chiropractic care provider Meek Integrative Health Center and upscale eatery Avanzare Italian Dining.
Marco Denis, president of Springfield Property LLC and owner of several properties within the shopping center, often walks the parking lot of the center, and following a targeted enforcement effort by the Springfield Police Department, he said he has seen a marked reduction in criminal activity.
SPD spent just over a year – June 2021 through July 2022 – providing stepped-up law enforcement presence at the Plaza Shopping Center. Over and above the regular patrol, a directed patrol was added, and off-duty officers were brought in to provide intensive enforcement for overtime pay, according to Chief Paul Williams.
“I feel like the presence there was a lot, and because of that, all of the people who used to come over there to do drugs and that sort of thing were forced to find another place,” said Denis, who also owns the Plaza Towers office building across the street. “I used to pick up needles in the parking lot. I haven’t seen that anymore.”
Williams said the enforcement effort was a success by every measure – including the fact that the shopping center has had a reduction in criminal and suspicious activity in the last eight months. These days, the area is patrolled only by the force’s regular officers, and the police area representative officer monitors it.
“They’re making sure things don’t pop back up,” Williams said.
Over the course of the year, officers involved with the targeted enforcement effort at the Plaza wrote 165 tickets and made 166 arrests, Williams said. Officers made contact with some 1,100 people who were acting suspiciously. Williams said much of the activity officers responded to was related to drug sales, stolen cars and foot traffic by people with no apparent business motive for being at the shopping center.
“There were about 2,300 hours worked to solve that problem and really create a much more positive and safe environment for folks that were visiting,” Williams said.
Additionally, business owners say they don’t have the same issues any longer, Williams said.
Denis also acknowledges the success, but cautiously.
“Based on the result that they got, I think it’s good to take a break a little bit, but I feel like every now and then, maybe every three to six months, they should come back and do that again and see how it goes,” he said.
With more than 40 full-time officer vacancies in the department, unused salary lines provide money in the budget for the overtime effort, Williams said.
The target area
Williams said his department works with business owners who are experiencing crime or other problems. The Plaza Shopping Center was a special situation, however: It was an entire shopping center with multiple business and property owners.
“There were repeated complaints, and an extraordinary amount of criminal activity and complaints,” he said. “We had to look at different means of addressing that.”
Officers were asked to sign up on a voluntary basis to spend overtime hours patrolling the center.
“It’s a really intense focus on a particular area to try to eliminate the problem, arrest the bad guys and make people feel safe,” Williams said.
Normally, a targeted enforcement effort is 30, 60 or 90 days in duration, he said, but the Plaza Shopping Center required something more.
Focus of attention
Williams said two businesses in the shopping center were identified by other business owners as attracting criminal activity: L&L Lucky Lynn’s internet cafe and Call & Surf, an internet sweepstakes business.
“They were creating an unsavory environment for other businesses in the area,” Williams said.
Denis agreed, noting that Call & Surf is still present at the shopping center.
“That place is still there, but with what the Police Department has done so far, we saw a big decrease in the activities going on,” he said.
Williams said the police presence managed to curb much of the suspicious behavior.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol was reported in news outlets to have seized 35 gambling machines from Lucky Lynn’s in June 2021. In a KY3 report from June 2022, a year after the equipment seizure, Steve Austin of Cooper’s Clippers said he had noticed an improvement to crime at the shopping center. He was quoted as saying a police presence in the parking lot had made everything much better.
Repeated calls to Call & Surf for a response to Williams’ remarks went unanswered. Lucky Lynn’s is no longer located in the shopping center.
Williams said after the Plaza enforcement effort, SPD moved its attention to another area that was experiencing high crime: the mile-long stretch of North Glenstone Avenue from Kearney Street to Interstate 44.
Williams said business owners in the area had complained of trespassing, theft and a generally unwelcoming environment for travelers. Many of the city’s hotels are located on that stretch.
The targeted enforcement effort began with the SPD studying reports from the shopping center to pinpoint problematic days, times and businesses, Williams said.
At that point, officers were brought on to patrol the one-mile corridor for overtime pay during what would have been their off-duty hours.
Williams said the area has historically been one of heightened crime, drug activity and prostitution. Proximity to the interstate is one factor, and a high concentration of hotels and motels is another. Williams said both situations attract a transient population, which he defined as people without a permanent address visiting the area to participate in criminal activity.
He made a distinction between homelessness and transience.
“Homelessness is not a crime,” he noted. “People who are homeless are more likely to be victims of crime than commit crime.”
While Williams considers the Plaza Shopping Center enforcement effort to have eliminated the problem, the North Glenstone issue is somewhat trickier.
“What we saw was that it dispersed,” he said.
Williams said some criminal activity moved from the area of Kearney/Glenstone to Kearney and Kansas Expressway.
“We’ve been able to get ahead of it,” he said. “During the last month we’ve added additional hours.”
In about the first six weeks of the effort, officers performed 135 hours of targeted enforcement, arresting eight people and issuing 49 tickets. Officers made contact with 74 people engaged in suspicious behavior.
Williams said officers try to build relationships with business owners and keep a visible presence in the targeted enforcement areas.
Williams noted the department wouldn’t be able to afford the extra police presence if it were fully staffed.
“If we were fully staffed, we wouldn’t have to do it,” he said.
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