City wants food mart to hire armed security guard

URBANA – The city is demanding that the owners of the Home Run Food Mart in east Urbana hire an armed, licensed security guard to help quell recurring drug and violent crime problems at the store.

If the store at 1509 E. Washington St. doesn't have a guard on duty by Dec. 1 and working from 4 p.m. until after closing every night, the city intends to revoke the store's package liquor license, said Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing.

The owner of the store said he intends to comply.

Prussing said she and Urbana Police Chief Eddie Adair decided to invoke a section of the city liquor code under which the mayor, as the city's liquor commissioner, can require a security plan at a specific location where problems are occurring.

"We're trying to prevent problems by dealing with the ones that take up so many police hours," said Prussing. "It's not just adding more police, it's getting to the problem at its source. If there's a business generating these kinds of problems, they've got to deal with it."

In an Oct. 26 letter to Prussing proposing the security plan, the police chief cited the large number of police calls Home Run Food Mart generates.

In 2004, the police department received 226 calls for service to the store. The more serious calls included 16 for illegal drug activity; 30 for fights; 65 for suspicious persons; four for a wanted person; two shooting calls, including one murder; and one stabbing call. City police took 52 reports at the location.

In the first nine months of 2005, city police received 156 calls to the store. That included 17 for illegal drug activity; 16 for fights; 37 suspicious persons calls; seven wanted persons calls; three shooting calls; and one stabbing call. Police took 37 reports at the store.

Adair said the store's management has promised to implement the security plan.

"I don't have a lot of confidence in what they say," Adair said. "I've been dealing with this group for at least two years. They promise you everything and deliver nothing."

The 2004 murder occurred at 9:45 p.m. on March 24 outside the Woodstone Apartments in the 900 block of South Lierman Avenue when Joseph Stevens, 23, of 808 N. Lincoln Ave., U, was shot three times in the lower abdomen. Adair said a fight that started in front of Home Run Food Mart prompted the shooting, which occurred in the back of the store at Woodstone Apartments.

Jaray D. Davenport, 24, of Urbana pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the case and was sentenced last January to eight years in state prison.

The general manager of the Home Run Food Mart, Jim Saqri, said he received notice from the city last Friday and that he and the fellow family members who own the store intend to comply and hire a security guard.

But Saqri said the move will cost $20 to $30 per hour. Asked if he can stay open with such an added expense, Saqri responded: "I don't think so."

Saqri said problems at the store started about three years ago, when he said drug dealers from Chicago began moving into nearby apartments. He said city police told him to call whenever there was trouble and that's what he has been doing.

"All of the problems start in front of my store," he said. "They (city police) never respond. The problem is there is not enough police."

Saqri said he and his family are businessmen in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Champaign-Urbana.

"We are here to help people," he said.

The most recent shooting was on Oct. 3, when an argument started in front of the Home Run Food Mart at 11:15 p.m. and resulted in a man being shot in the lower leg in the parking lot at Monical's Pizza, 1505 E. Washington St., U, Adair said. A 22-year-old Urbana man, Shannen Campbell, has been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder in the case.

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