By Carlos Correa

STOCKTON (CBS13) — Keeping a close eye on businesses is part of a new program aimed at preventing crime and blight in one area of Stockton.

Restaurants, cafes and grocery stores are among the businesses banding together to improve the safety, health and welfare of the community.

The newly formed group keeps a careful watch for possible dangers along Wilson Way, a busy roadway here in Stockton filled with miles of storefronts.

A year and a half ago, the owners of Grocery Outlet in Stockton faced a lot of challenges with their new business, from homeless encampments to people soliciting sex and drugs in the parking lot.

“It makes the businesses unattractive where people don’t want to come and shop, and, you know, even finding needles,” said Bobby McGhee, owner of the Grocery Outlet.

Things have changed dramatically since a new group was formed to discourage crime and improve safety. It’s called the Wilson Way Business Watch, and runs just like a neighborhood watch program.

“The geographical area of the draw is getting further and further, and I think a lot of customers have mentioned it to us and they have thanked us for it. And they just want to come and have a place to shop where its clean and they don’t have to be pressured by anybody out in the parking lot,” he said.

The program includes the Stockton Police Department, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office and behavioral health.

Organizers say it’s more than just reporting suspicious activity.

“The goal is not necessarily to go out and arrest everybody, but to have options: ‘Hey we can help you with this,’ if you’re having these kind of problems, whether its drug addiction or mental health, other issues, we try to find a way help people in the area,” said Sgt. Jimmy Farthing with the Stockton Police Department.

The group started with just a handful of business owners concerned about the quality of life and how it was impacting their bottom-line. Now, membership is at forty and still growing.

“The Stockton Police Department does care about the issues that are affecting them. We are willing to go out and address the issues and not just address them one time, but to continually go over them,” he said.

Both business owners and police say the program is working. Prostitution has gone down, loitering is less of a problem and law enforcement has stepped up patrol.

“I think that safety is a good thing to help out with and you know, everybody struggles in their lives, and with that comes a lot of chaos and violence, and it’s good to watch out for people and make sure they are okay,” said Timothy Lahey, who lives nearby.

The group of business owners meet every month and are in constant contact with police through phone, text, and emails. The next meeting is planned for Feb. 27 at the Eastland Plaza.

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