Local

Citizens patrol Plaza Midwood – with guns

Scott Yamanashi could have died on his 38th birthday. But he survived being shot during his party at a Plaza Midwood bar. Now he's starting an armed patrol and stirring conflict in the community he aims to protect.

The patrol, called Neighborhood Watch Alliance, is comprised of some of Yamanashi's friends from businesses off Central Avenue. The group is still organizing, he said. But the plan is to patrol the area with handguns, flashlights and notepads.

“We can lurk in the shadows, watch people and report what we see,” he said. “That's not against the law.”

But the idea has alarmed some residents and concerns police.

“I'm glad that they're getting involved,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Sgt. Tonya Arrington said. “There's just some concern any time weapons are involved.”

There are numerous citizen patrol groups across the city. In Windsor Park, volunteers regularly ride around 26 miles of streets and report their findings to police. Barclay Downs residents near SouthPark have established block captains for reporting problems. But none of the groups is armed.

N.C. residents are allowed to carry registered handguns in public as long as they are visible. With a state-issued permit, they can also carry concealed handguns unless prohibited by property owners. But there are specific rules for people working as armed security guards, who must be licensed and can only patrol on private property.

“There is a lot of opportunity for them to do some good over there,” Maj. Eddie Levins said. “Our job is to help them understand what they have to do so they don't get in trouble trying to do the right thing.”

Some residents have doubts

Yamanashi said his group, which so far has about five members, plans to get T-shirts and walk through the business district. They'll take note of criminal activity, report it to police and offer safety tips to patrons.

Not all members will be armed, he said, and those who have permits to conceal their handguns likely will. His group wants to be “the eyes and ears” for the police. Eventually he'd like to raise money to buy radios so the group and business owners can communicate, he said.

“Once they understand what's going on and what we're doing I think they'll feel a lot better about it,” Yamanashi said.

But Plaza Midwood residents have doubts.

“It never occurred to me that he was talking about strapping on a weapon and walking down my street,” said Leslie Shinn, president of the Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association. “We would prefer to do the traditional neighborhood watch – work with CMPD and city officials and lobby for money locally and at the state level for more resources…

“I think the best way to combat crime without the help from Raleigh is neighbors watching out for neighbors without guns.”

Yamanashi met with police last week to explain his plan, which raised questions among officers who don't want residents to think it's OK to take matters into their own hands.

“We're not trying to take the place of the police,” Yamanashi said. “I just don't feel the urgency by the city or police,” Yamanashi said. “Me getting close to getting killed there affected the whole neighborhood – you can only tolerate so much.”

Plaza Midwood crime spike

Plaza Midwood is a traditionally safe area. But the neighborhood and adjacent commercial district between Central and Commonwealth avenues are among several areas that have experienced a spike in violent and property crimes since January.

Officer Kevin Weaver said the spike was atypical. Still, larcenies from autos have increased 24 percent in Plaza Midwood so far this year, compared with the same period in 2007. They have nearly doubled in the Central Avenue commercial area, which extends from Pecan Avenue to Morningside Drive. There also have been four armed robberies in the business district compared with two during the same period last year.

Yamanashi, a West Charlotte High School teacher and part-time bouncer, has many friends in Plaza Midwood. On April 2, they celebrated his birthday at Snug Harbor, a live-music bar across from CVS Pharmacy on Pecan Avenue.

Yamanashi was getting a drink from the bar just before midnight when two masked gunmen burst in, he said. One pointed a shotgun at the DJ and chaos ensued on the dance floor.

Yamanashi was shot once in the shoulder during a scuffle with one of the robbers. Another patron was wounded.

The incident happened weeks after an armed robbery at the nearby Fuel Pizza, a shooting and several home invasions in the Dilworth neighborhood about a few miles away. Residents in both areas discussed hiring off-duty officers to improve police presence, Arrington said.

“We're all taking time to reflect on things and trying to secure our neighborhoods,” Yamanashi said.

‘Eyes and ears on the street'

Recently, Yamanashi walked along Central and Pecan Avenues and Thomas Street. After the Snug Harbor shooting, the CVS installed a large street light that illuminates part of Pecan Avenue, he said. But the area is full of dimly lit alleys where criminals could lurk, he said, pointing his flashlight to show potential hiding places.

CMPD regularly patrols the area and has a bike patrol that works part-time, police said.

But Yamanashi said more presence, better lighting and security is needed.

While armed patrols don't exist elsewhere in Charlotte, the idea has worked in New Haven, Conn. Elizier Greer, a community activist at odds with police, formed the Edgewood Defense Patrol after a spike in homicides and armed robberies last year.

“Our point was not to threaten people. We just said ‘folks, we have eyes and ears on the street and we are not going to put up with the cops not doing their jobs or the criminals taking over our neighborhood,'” Greer said. His group wore black T-shirts and patrolled on foot, by bike, section by section, he said.

“You have to be careful who's on your patrols and it's a lot of follow through,” he said. “You can't just do it once and disappear.”

Scott Yamanashi could have died on his 38th birthday. But he survived being shot during his party at a Plaza Midwood bar. Now he's starting an armed patrol and stirring conflict in the community he aims to protect.

The patrol, called Neighborhood Watch Alliance, is comprised of some of Yamanashi's friends from businesses off Central Avenue. The group is still organizing, he said. But the plan is to patrol the area with handguns, flashlights and notepads.

“We can lurk in the shadows, watch people and report what we see,” he said. “That's not against the law.”

But the idea has alarmed some residents and concerns police.

“I'm glad that they're getting involved,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Sgt. Tonya Arrington said. “There's just some concern any time weapons are involved.”

There are numerous citizen patrol groups across the city. In Windsor Park, volunteers regularly ride around 26 miles of streets and report their findings to police. Barclay Downs residents near SouthPark have established block captains for reporting problems. But none of the groups is armed.

N.C. residents are allowed to carry registered handguns in public as long as they are visible. With a state-issued permit, they can also carry concealed handguns unless prohibited by property owners. But there are specific rules for people working as armed security guards, who must be licensed and can only patrol on private property.

“There is a lot of opportunity for them to do some good over there,” Maj. Eddie Levins said. “Our job is to help them understand what they have to do so they don't get in trouble trying to do the right thing.”

Some residents have doubts

Yamanashi said his group, which so far has about five members, plans to get T-shirts and walk through the business district. They'll take note of criminal activity, report it to police and offer safety tips to patrons.

Not all members will be armed, he said, and those who have permits to conceal their handguns likely will. His group wants to be “the eyes and ears” for the police. Eventually he'd like to raise money to buy radios so the group and business owners can communicate, he said.

“Once they understand what's going on and what we're doing I think they'll feel a lot better about it,” Yamanashi said.

But Plaza Midwood residents have doubts.

“It never occurred to me that he was talking about strapping on a weapon and walking down my street,” said Leslie Shinn, president of the Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association. “We would prefer to do the traditional neighborhood watch – work with CMPD and city officials and lobby for money locally and at the state level for more resources…

“I think the best way to combat crime without the help from Raleigh is neighbors watching out for neighbors without guns.”

Yamanashi met with police last week to explain his plan, which raised questions among officers who don't want residents to think it's OK to take matters into their own hands.

“We're not trying to take the place of the police,” Yamanashi said. “I just don't feel the urgency by the city or police,” Yamanashi said. “Me getting close to getting killed there affected the whole neighborhood – you can only tolerate so much.”

Plaza Midwood crime spike

Plaza Midwood is a traditionally safe area. But the neighborhood and adjacent commercial district between Central and Commonwealth avenues are among several areas that have experienced a spike in violent and property crimes since January.

Officer Kevin Weaver said the spike was atypical. Still, larcenies from autos have increased 24 percent in Plaza Midwood so far this year, compared with the same period in 2007. They have nearly doubled in the Central Avenue commercial area, which extends from Pecan Avenue to Morningside Drive. There also have been four armed robberies in the business district compared with two during the same period last year.

Yamanashi, a West Charlotte High School teacher and part-time bouncer, has many friends in Plaza Midwood. On April 2, they celebrated his birthday at Snug Harbor, a live-music bar across from CVS Pharmacy on Pecan Avenue.

Yamanashi was getting a drink from the bar just before midnight when two masked gunmen burst in, he said. One pointed a shotgun at the DJ and chaos ensued on the dance floor.

Yamanashi was shot once in the shoulder during a scuffle with one of the robbers. Another patron was wounded.

The incident happened weeks after an armed robbery at the nearby Fuel Pizza, a shooting and several home invasions in the Dilworth neighborhood about a few miles away. Residents in both areas discussed hiring off-duty officers to improve police presence, Arrington said.

“We're all taking time to reflect on things and trying to secure our neighborhoods,” Yamanashi said.

‘Eyes and ears on the street'

Recently, Yamanashi walked along Central and Pecan Avenues and Thomas Street. After the Snug Harbor shooting, the CVS installed a large street light that illuminates part of Pecan Avenue, he said. But the area is full of dimly lit alleys where criminals could lurk, he said, pointing his flashlight to show potential hiding places.

CMPD regularly patrols the area and has a bike patrol that works part-time, police said.

But Yamanashi said more presence, better lighting and security is needed.

While armed patrols don't exist elsewhere in Charlotte, the idea has worked in New Haven, Conn. Elizier Greer, a community activist at odds with police, formed the Edgewood Defense Patrol after a spike in homicides and armed robberies last year.

“Our point was not to threaten people. We just said ‘folks, we have eyes and ears on the street and we are not going to put up with the cops not doing their jobs or the criminals taking over our neighborhood,'” Greer said. His group wore black T-shirts and patrolled on foot, by bike, section by section, he said.

“You have to be careful who's on your patrols and it's a lot of follow through,” he said. “You can't just do it once and disappear.”

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