By Paula Katinas
Dyker Heights — Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’ “Safe Stop” program has expanded to the 13th Avenue commercial strip and business leaders said merchants are eager to take part.
“We have 15 stores signed up already and another five that are submitting applications,” Tatiana Nicoli, co-president of the 13th Avenue Merchants Association, said at a press conference held outside Kaktus, a children’s clothing store at 7511 13th Ave., on Feb. 17.
Hynes and state Sen. Marty Golden spoke at the press conference.
Merchants are the key component in “Safe Stop,” a program designed to give society’s most vulnerable — children and the elderly — a haven in the event that they are in danger or fall ill.
Under the “Safe Stop” concept, a merchant who has been screened by the local police precinct agrees to allow his or her store to be used as a temporary haven. The merchant places a “Safe Stop” decal in the window of the store. The decal acts as a signal to a child in danger, or an adult in distress, that the store is safe to enter. By signing up for the program, the merchant has agreed to let the distressed person inside to provide comfort and aide.
The store owner is not obligated to do anything other than call 911 or 311, Hynes said.
“If a senior or a child feels threatened, they can come into the store. The merchant will call 911 or 311, or call home, if that’s what’s needed,” he said.
“We look out for the most vulnerable,” Golden said.
“Safe Stop” was launched last year in conjunction with the Sunset Park Business Improvement District (BID). The BID represents stores on Fifth Avenue between 38th and 64th streets.
BID Executive Director Renee Giordano said 70 stores on the avenue are currently participating in the program.
“We believe it’s a good program,” Giordano said, adding that she encourages merchant participation.
The program was instituted in the wake of the death of Leiby Kletzy, an 8-year-old boy who got lost on his way home from summer day camp in Borough Park in July 2011 and was murdered, allegedly by a man who spotted him wandering on the street and offered him a ride.
To date, 218 stores in Brooklyn are “Safe Stop” participants, according to Hynes. The program is concentrated in the neighborhoods of Sunset Park, Park Slope, Williamsburg and Dyker Heights. But Hynes said he is hoping to expand it to business zones throughout the borough.
“By the end of the year, we could have 1,000 merchants,” he said.
Lutheran Medical Center, at 150 55th St. in Sunset Park, is a participant.
Calling “Safe Stop” an important program “making a difference here in our community,” Golden said it is particularly important in a community like southwest Brooklyn, which has a large population of senior citizens.
“Some of our seniors get disoriented,” he said.
Golden also expressed concern for the safety of children.
“We’ve all heard stories about cars going around schools and drivers trying to lure kids into the cars,” he said.
Nicoli, owner of Boulevard Books & Café, at 7518 13th Ave., said she has a “Safe Stop” decal on the door of her bookstore.
“The merchants who are reluctant about it have told me they think it’s a lengthy background check. But it’s quick,” she said.
Nicoli and Dominick Sarta, co-presidents of the 13th Avenue Merchants Association, issued a joint statement lauding the “Safe Stop” program.
“Dyker Heights has always been a safe, family neighborhood where everyone knows each other and you know your neighbors have your children’s safety at interest. Now they know they can rely on their merchants as well,” the statement reads.
The next step is to “get the word out” to schools to let children know about the program, Golden said.
For more information about “Safe Stop,” call Patricia Ruiz at the DA’s office at (718) 250-2247.