A series of crimes prompted store owners in one Fitchburg shopping mall to watch out for one another. They've created a crime watch program with a message.
Buffo Floral owner Tricia Adler remembers, "the day before the robbery he came in and I was working on the front window display, and he asked whether we had any employment."
Adler says she had seen the suspicious man at the mall before.
"He didn't have phone a pen or a paper so I knew that's not what he came for," she says.
She learned the next day the real reason for his visit. "One of the girls called me at home and said we had gotten robbed and before they even said anything I described him to a tee."
The business owner says the man used a gun to get a sales clerk to empty the register one Saturday morning in January.
"We didn't really hear about anything until this happened," Adler says.
But police say it's one of four robberies at the complex in just a few months.
"One at Blockbuster Video, one at Cold Stone Creamery and one here at Buffo Floral and then we had a woman who was confronted in the parking lot where a tote bag was forcibly taken from her," Lt. Jay Wilson says.
Business owners decided to take action by establishing a business watch program. Adler says, "if we see something suspicious we can email it out, so people know what to look for."
Perhaps one of the most visible sign of what's being done are posters on store windows. One warns of a business watch in force. Others describe suspects.
"I know other business owners have seen that gentleman that robbed us. I think if we would've had the signs up it might've scared him," Adler says.
Fitchburg Police Lt. Jay Wilson helps business owners coordinate the program.
Wilson says, "there's quite a bit of lighting here ... we did add some lighting to a stairwell." He also recommends store owners arm themselves with crime prevention education.
He says simply greeting a customer has a dual purpose. "It causes the person to have interaction, and maybe somebody was planning on doing something, they may just say no thank you and turn around and walk out of the store."
Owners of the complex also say they're tripling the number of surveillance cameras, whatever it takes to keep tenants and customers safe.
Adler says, "if we're all watching each other and keeping up to date with what's going on we can help each other out."
Members of a business watch in the city of Monona say their award-winning crime prevention program is effective in deterring crime. The non-profit organization holds yearly workshops to assist business owners.
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