By Carlos Correa

STOCKTON (CBS13) — A new program in downtown Stockton is helping business owners keep a close eye on things as they work together to improve safety. Together with police, the merchants are addressing issues like aggressive panhandling, vandalism and loitering.

Business owners in downtown Stockton are working hard every day to make sure customers feel safe.

“There is a lot of energy going on in downtown right now, and one of the things businesses are seeing is investments coming in and they want to protect those investments,” said Michael Huber of the Downtown Stockton Alliance.

So far, 40 businesses have signed up to be part of the new Downtown Business Watch program. The program is a chance for owners to band together and fight crime.

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“Well, just like in your neighborhood, you want to know who your neighbors are and how you can help support them in eliminating some of the crime and watch for each other and that is what we’re trying to promote with this program,” he said.

Businesses that are now part of the program will have a list of resources to report any suspicious activity, loitering and crime — some of the very same issues they have encountered in the past.

“We still encourage to call the non-emergency or 911 depending on the situation, but with Business Watch we’re going a step further, if there is follow up that needs to be done, they can contact our crime prevention office and we’ll do our best to follow up on it,” said Andrea Castro of the Stockton Police Department.

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Merchants on Wilson Way in Stockton started a similar program in February. They have reported a reduction in loitering, prostitution, and crime. Business owners hope the program will bring change to downtown.

“It kind of symbolizes the changes going on where people are starting to step in and say enough is enough,” said Jacob Benguerel, owner, Deliberation Room.

Those who are participating in the Downtown Business Watch plan to meet once a month.

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