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Community News: Central

LITTLE TOKYO : 1st Street Merchants Start Night Patrols

February 14, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

Merchants along 1st Street have begun a nighttime citizens patrol to curb panhandling and other crimes along the historic business strip.

Tired of panhandlers scaring customers away, two or three merchants are going out to politely ask the beggars to leave, according to Brian Kito, one of the organizers. The patrol members also watch for other problems, such as burglarized cars and businesses.

Community leaders hope to get all 1st Street merchants involved in the self-patrol program so that each person will need to serve only one four-hour stint a month.

Organizers are also working on a poster they hope every Little Tokyo business will post to discourage customers from giving to panhandlers. The poster, which a Little Tokyo business, Zero Graphics, has offered to print free, will state that giving to beggars encourages the activity. It will list local shelters and social service agencies that help the homeless.

The self-patrol program is the brainchild of several members of the Greater Little Tokyo Anti-Crime Assn. Armed with flashlights, three association members--Kito, owner of Fugetsu-Do sweet shop; businessman Satoru Uyeda, and Suehiro restaurant owner Kenji Suzuki walked 1st Street one night.

Kito said they were pleased with the results and decided to try the self-patrol program.

"We would just ask (panhandlers) to move on, and they recognize we're merchants here, so they don't come back," Kito said. "They know we're not going to get in our cars and leave.

"The police would chase them off too, but they would always come back."

Kito said the 1st Street patrol is a pilot program.

"This is a learning process," he said. "This is a step to start taking care of our own problems."

Sgt. Mark Olvera, a community liaison officer with the Police Department, applauded the efforts. He likened the merchants to a neighborhood watch group and said Downtown business people are taking similar steps.

"They aren't doing any enforcement action. They are simply walking the streets, letting everyone know they are there," Olvera said of the Little Tokyo merchants. "If they see anything that's not right, they can call the police.

"This is one of the many things they are doing as a group. Is this a vigilante group? No. It's the furthest thing you can get. These are business people, very professional, very polite."

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