At Murder Spot, Chairs Disappear At 3 PM

Paul Bass PhotoWhen Roger Williams and his son stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts for their daily late-afternoon flatbread, they discovered a new twist to their routine: no place to sit.

A man was murdered in that Dunkin’ Donuts, at the corner of Derby and Norton in the heart of the West River neighborhood, on Dec. 14. Then on Feb. 16, around the same time Williams (pictured) usually pops in with his son after picking him up from Barnard School, somebody shot a patron there in the head.

So the neighborhood’s top cop, Lt. Ray Hassett, convinced the store’s owner to take action: Remove the chairs at 3 p.m. each day so people don’t loiter. He had previously convinced the owner to keep lights on after closing time. (The owner couldn’t be reached for comment.)

Hassett said he aims to move the dealers and those causing trouble from the area, to alter the sense that they own it.

So right at 3 p.m. Wednesday, two staffers walked out from behind their counter redolent of Boston cremes, old-fashioneds, and hazelnut coffee. Then they methodically began to collect all the chairs in the room, carefully stacking them in the corner. Yet the restaurant was to remain open for five more hours.

Starting at 6, they said, the front door would be locked and customers would need to use the drive-through. Except for the occasional regular, for whom they’ll unlock the door.

Allan Appel PhotoHassett reported on his efforts at Tuesday night’s monthly Dwight Community Management Team meeting.

“It was a fishbowl there,” he said. Victims are illuminated inside the restaurant. Shooters with a beef against them have easy aim through the glass.

“Like shooting fish in a barrel,” said Hassett. “The tables are bolted, but we can [remove] the chairs.”

“If someone we know comes to the door, one of the regulars,” one of the staffers said, “we let them in.”

“It was becoming a hangout for dealers,” he said, a hard core group of people whom the street has claimed.

He said the target of the no-seating approach is not organized gangs, but more informal groups. “It’s more impulsive behavior,” he said. “A lot of these disputes that end up in shooting [in public places] start on Facebook.”

“Many of the [recently] laid-off cops were young and they knew these kids. There is no substitute for relationships,” Hassett said.

The Dunkin’ staffers on duty Wednesday afternoon said the recent violence has not hurt business. (They declined to be named or photographed.) The trouble is not in the restaurant, they said, but outside. “They shouldn’t be laying off cops,” one of the workers suggested.

“I always feel safe,” said one of the workers, who has been on the job five months.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday one chair did appear in the Dunkin’ dining room. Greg Cox (pictured) was sitting in it. He had asked for the chair.

The staff knows Cox, a retired security guard. He lives a block away behind Berger Apartments. When he’s not busy volunteering for the North Haven fire department, he stops by Dunkin’ to help take out the trash and to sip a soda.

Roger Williams said he’d like to sit inside with his son so their flatbread doesn’t turn cold out in the winter evening. Williams, who works at an energy plant in Bridgeport, stops by Dunkin’ on the way home after picking up his son from Barnard’s after-school program.

Williams said that while he doesn’t like the new policy (“It’s kind of fucked up for people who don’t be there” causing trouble), he said he understands it and even supports it. He said he recognizes the need to address out-of-control violence.

He then suggested a slightly different rule: “If you’re not buying something, you can’t hang around. If you do buy something, after it’s done, you leave. When it’s gone, you’re gone. No loitering.”

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posted by: andrew garrow on March 3, 2011  3:23pm

Well… at least we now know that the old adage that cops are always eating donuts is not true.
I live down the street about a 5 minute walk (i don’t cycle, seems a bit too e elitist for me) and have been here a few times.  Let me tell you, at all hours of the day it’s dangerous.  Just shut the place down.  put up a police substation or a gun store, but get rid of this killing field.

posted by: Ex-NHPD on March 3, 2011  3:25pm

Mr. Cox is a RETIRED security guard and a VOLUNTEER (fire fighter?, janitor?, what?) at North Haven Fire Department.  In the normal course of his day, he walks around with a baseball cap that has SECURITY on it, and a jacket with North Haven Fire Department patch on it.  And, did not mind be photographed in the garb.  I wonder what the North Haven fire Department thinks about that.

Might be a candidate for the Red Berets.

posted by: joebrummer on March 3, 2011  3:28pm

I wish more of the folks involved in these conflicts, regardless if they started on Facebook or in the homes, would take advantage of the services of Community Mediation, Inc.  The services are confidential, voluntary and available on a sliding scale making them affordable.

In mediation, all parties involved are given a change to speak and tell their story.  We will can figure out what the root causes are and brainstorm ways to help folks find agreements they can live with.

If conflicts start, there is no need for violence if we can sit people down and help them get “heard!”  No one needs to die over a disagreement!  You would be surprised what can be mediated and the phone call and consultation about mediation are free.

If you or someone you know is having conflict, mediation may be a viable option to solve it without violence in ways everyone wins and no one needs to die. (or lose their chair)

posted by: baloney on March 3, 2011  4:14pm

I have never known ANYONE to ever get any relief or improvement in their situation from mediation.I never did, nor have ANY friends, family that has ever gone through it..It is worthless program much the same as anger management. It is a way for people who dont want to REALLY work for a living find a way to spend their over priced worthless educations!! A way for the government to act like they r doing something when if fact they r doing NOTHING!!!

posted by: Brenda on March 4, 2011  12:52pm

To “baloney” - It sounds like you are very upset about mediation.  I would be very interested in hearing who you, your family and your friends received services from and what the general topic of the disputes were.

posted by: Volly on March 4, 2011  3:16pm

That is not a North Haven patch it is a New Haven FD patch.

posted by: joebrummer on March 5, 2011  9:33am

@Baloney, I am guessing by what you have written that you feel annoyed by the comments I wrote because your experiences with mediation have not been as positive.  My experiences with mediation have been very different.

I have been doing mediations since 2006 in two states.  I have no expensive education and I don’t work a high paid government job either.  I have done over 200 mediations and while not all came to agreements, many came to amazing endings where relationships where healed and long standing conflicts ended.

I mostly want you to know I have done dozens of mediations with youth in schools.  I have seen mediation work to stop violence and even mend friendships. I have seen youth become effective leaders after taking peer mediation trainings.

While I am disappointed your experiences with mediation have not been positive and I am more than confident saying mediation is effective at helping to stop violence.

posted by: bjfair on March 5, 2011  10:43am

Williams appears more thoughtful and solution focused about this issue without profiling customers.He has a sound plan of action Removing chairs after 3pm, allowing “certain” people in the restaurant is going to do what? If someone sees someone in the restaurant that he has a beef with will the fact that he is not sitting down prevent the shooting? Who will be assigned the duty of who to target when deciding who be allowed in or not? Will there be training on profiling?No wonder the city remains unsafe. Look at who is making the decisions. Too many workers with cobwebs on the brain? Think through a problem to a reasonable and rational resolution. (shaking my head).

posted by: S. O''Mon on March 7, 2011  10:57am

Great neighborhood, great people, great community…...can’t wait for the Fixer Parade.. GOOD TIMES